Bill making cemetery desecration a violation of religious freedom passes Senate panel

Marcy Oster

WASHINGTON (JTA) – A bill that would make desecration of cemeteries around the world a violation of religious freedom was adopted by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

If approved, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 would be amended to include the vandalizing of cemeteries. Under the proposed change, the United States could penalize countries that obstruct religious freedom by cutting foreign aid, imposing trade sanctions and canceling cultural and scientific exchanges.

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The bill adopted by the committee on Wednesday now will be considered by the full Senate. It previously was approved in the House of Representatives.

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“The defacing or destruction of a cemetery – based on an affiliation with a particular religious or spiritual group – should not be tolerated by governments,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who helped lead the effort in the Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a senior member.

“Freedom of religion requires respect for those practicing their faith alone as well as in community with others.  It also requires protection for those who identify as members of a religious community, for the symbols of the community, for the houses of worship and other institutions of the community,” Cardin said.

In 2013, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in a number of countries including the Netherlands, Hungary, Russia, Poland, France, Germany, Georgia, Moldova and Argentina, according to Cardin’s office.

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