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New York senate bill to help protect houses of worship

Catholic body strongly supports adding trespassing on a house of worship to the state's parameters of a hate crime
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to the media at Niagara Falls State Park ahead of a total solar eclipse across North America, in Niagara Falls, New York, on April 8.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to the media at Niagara Falls State Park ahead of a total solar eclipse across North America, in Niagara Falls, New York, on April 8. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 16, 2024 05:26 AM GMT
Updated: April 16, 2024 05:31 AM GMT

Legislation in New York state would expand the state's criteria for a hate crime to include trespassing on houses of worship.

The New York State Catholic Conference said in a memo April 9 to Empire State lawmakers that it strongly supports Senate Bill S7040 and Assembly Bill 6929, which, if enacted by the state Legislature, would add trespassing on a house of worship to the state's parameters of a hate crime.

"Current geopolitical events, culture wars and societal divisions have led to a significant increase in attacks on religious groups," the NYSCC said. "This dangerous trend threatens the sacred right to religious freedom. Worshippers are living in fear as people are hurt, or worse. Churches, synagogues, and mosques have been desecrated and damaged. We must do more to put an end to this horror and protect religious liberty. This proposal is a good first step, and we applaud the sponsors for introducing it."

The memo added: "Religious bigotry and hate cannot go unchecked. During these frightening times, we must come together and stand strong against violence and intolerance. We urge you to enact this critical piece of legislation."

There was a 90 percent increase in hate crimes statewide in New York between 2020 and 2022, per state data. The New York Police Department reported an additional spike in hate crimes following Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, with many such incidents of hate crimes directed at Jewish New Yorkers. State data also shows online hate speech directed toward both Jewish and Muslim communities since then is up 425 percent and 41 percent respectively.

In January, Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., backed other efforts to expand the list of charges eligible to be prosecuted as hate crimes.

"The rising tide of hate is abhorrent and unacceptable -- and I'm committed to doing everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe," Hochul said in a statement at the time. "Since the despicable Hamas attacks of October 7, there has been a disturbing rise in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim New Yorkers. In recent years we've seen hate-fueled violence targeting Black residents of Buffalo and disturbing harassment of AAPI and LGBTQ+ individuals on the streets of New York City. We will never rest until all New Yorkers feel safe, regardless of who they are, who they love, or how they worship."

A prominent Catholic church in the state recently experienced an incident of trespass.

Three protesters from a group called "Extinction Rebellion (XR) NYC Palestine Solidarity" were arrested after disrupting the March 30 Easter Vigil -- the most solemn religious celebration of the Catholic Church in the calendar year -- at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

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