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"A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair."
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
The ability for us to experience others' emotions as if they are our own is what makes us distinctly human. This deeper consciousness that we know to be empathy is what drives us to unite. It compels us to think outside ourselves. It inspires us protect one another.
Its absence provides the need for strong hate crimes laws, and its presence is what will help us create them. Empathy, because it makes us responsible to and for our fellow citizens, is the bedrock of democracy, and the very lifeblood of peaceful and verdant communities.
We are concerned about recent arguments against advancing hate crimes legislation in Utah. These vital protections belong to all. When an anti-Semitic sentiment is written on the walls of a synagogue, not just those in the congregation are terrorized, but all Jews and quite possibly all people of faith. When homophobic slurs are uttered during acts of violence against a gay person, all lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people and our allies alike feel the reverberations of those blows.
And work we must, because in Utah over the past 20 years, law enforcement agencies reported a total of 1,279 hate crimes some based on race, some on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, among others. In 2014 alone, the FBI reported 50 bias-motivated crimes in Utah. Yet not one has been prosecuted as such, thus allowing assailants to walk our streets uninhibited, while the rest of us remain unprotected.
Our current statute simply isn't working.
A new argument being advanced is that hate crimes may alter the balance of LGBT rights and religious liberty. As a person of faith, I strongly disagree. This bill does not upset the balance of religious liberty. On the contrary, it offers vital new protections for religious liberty.
Laws against hate crimes offer important safeguards for protecting people of faith from crimes inspired by anti-religious sentiment. For example, when someone spray paints a swastika on a synagogue, or burns down a church, that is a grave threat to religious freedom.
It is the government's responsibility to guarantee that we all remain free to worship God as we choose. Mormons, Jews and Muslims have all been victimized by vicious hate crimes. It is the government's responsibility to guarantee that we are free to worship as we choose.
As the powerful First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it."
We must work to pass hate crimes protections. Our laws are strongest when they are clear about the groups protected. Our legislation needs to detail whom it protects, including people of color, people of faith, the LGBTQ community, physical and mental ability, sex and gender and nation of origin. Simply put, it needs to explicitly say who is protected and for what reasons or none of us benefits from its protections.
It is empathy that reduces these crimes and it will be empathy that helps protect us from them. I encourage all of us to find it in our hearts to care for the safety not just of ourselves and our families, but of our neighbors, our colleagues and our fellow citizens. Contact your legislators immediately showing your passionate support for Sen. Steve Urquhart's hate crimes bill, Senate Bill 107.
Our empathy will expand because of it.
Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman began serving at Salt Lake County's Congregation Kol Ami in July 2010. Congregation Kol Ami is a place that provides individuals a place to celebrate Judaism in a dynamic and caring community.