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Stiffer Penalties For Desecrating Houses of Worship In 2006

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It just got a little more expensive to have a hate-filled heart. In a unanimous decision, the City Council approved to up civil penalties for those who are caught marring and desecrating houses of worship, religious statues and monuments. Brought to the council by City Council Minority Leader James Oddo, the bill will raise the $10,000 fine currently imposed upon those convicted of vandalizing religious sites to $25,000. However, while some credit the increase as a deterrent, critics say that it will do little to curb such activities, since it is very rare that vandals who commit these crimes are caught. The decision comes roughly a month after the Jewish holiday season, where police precincts in Brooklyn reported no acts of vandalism or desecrations. “The Jewish holidays were very quiet this year,” Inspector Robert Richard, the commanding officer of the 70th Precinct told members of Community Board 14 recently. “We didn’t have any reports of vandalism.” Over the past few years, acts of desecration and vandalism have occurred sporadically, with most of the acts being committed in heavily Jewish areas. Although that is not always the norm – just two years ago, a church in Marine Park was the target of a vandal, who peppered the walls with heavy metal song lyrics. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2004 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the number of vandalism incidents against Jewish community institutions, synagogues and property has increased to 644 incidents after historic lows in 2002. New York saw the most anti-Semitic incidents with 350 in 2004, according to the report. A good number of those incidents took place in Brooklyn, which has the one of the largest Jewish populations in the world outside of Israel. Currently, those convicted of vandalizing religious sites are charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail. The sentencing could be lengthened if the suspect’s actions are considered hate crimes. The $25,000 civil penalty is imposed in addition to any criminal action, according to officials. “When hateful people attack churches, synagogues and mosques, they must be punished accordingly,” City Council Speaker Gifford Miller said in a statement. “We’re passing this bill to protect New Yorkers’ freedom to worship without fear.” “Twenty-five thousand dollars is a large sum of money, but I am not sure it will be a deterrent for a knucklehead who is so full of hate and stupidity he desecrates a house of worship,” said Oddo. “But many violators won’t be able to pay this large sum all at once, thus it is intended to be a ‘financial life sentence’ of sorts and will remind these perpetrators each time they make a payment of just how stupid their actions are and that we as a City will not tolerate their behavior.”

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