BY JOE MARVILLI
This week was a momentous one for U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), as her Protect Cemeteries Act became the first bill she introduced to be signed into law.
President Barack Obama signed into law Meng’s legislation that made the desecration of cemeteries a violation of religious freedom. The act amended the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to include the vandalism of cemeteries as a breach on the right to freedom of religion, both at home and around the world.
Meng said the law will fight anti-Semitism and religiously motivated vandalism of cemeteries. It will also prevent developers from building over cemeteries. The Congresswoman said several Jewish constituents in her district spoke to her about the need for such a bill.
The law also empowers the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, a panel created in the 1980s that works to identify and preserve cemeteries, memorials and buildings in foreign countries that are associated with the cultural heritage of Americans. According to Meng, the commission did a lot of work in the former Soviet Union, where Jewish communities were devastated by the Holocaust and their memorials were left unattended for decades.
The Congresswoman thanked the President for supporting her bill with his signature.
“I applaud President Obama for signing this important bipartisan legislation into law,” Meng said. “This new law makes it clear that our society will not tolerate the desecration of cemeteries, whether motivated by anti-Semitism, hate or greedy and uncaring developers. It will be a new and critical tool to combat the desecration of cemeteries and provide a much-needed boost towards promoting preservation, tolerance and respect for cemeteries across the globe. I cannot be happier that this critical piece of legislation is now the law of the land.”
She also thanked Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who sponsored the bill in the U.S. Senate.
The Protect Cemeteries Act was introduced by Meng this past February. It was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April, passed the House of Representatives in May and got through the Senate in July. Obama signed it into law on Aug. 8.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.