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Smitherman introduces bill to protect places of worship

Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman

Special to The Times

Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman
Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman

In an effort to toughen Alabama laws on hate crimes and terrorist threats, State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, has introduced a bill to better protect churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious properties, as well as public and private schools.

“I have been alarmed by the recent threats against religious properties and houses of worship,” Smitherman said. “Our great nation is built on the foundation of religious freedom.  We respect the right of people to assemble and peacefully practice their religion. This peace should not be disturbed by individuals or groups seeking to restrict freedom or frighten those who love and value this precious right.”

Jewish Community facilities in Alabama and across the nation have been subjected to bomb threats in recent weeks. In other areas, there have been threats against mosques.

“We take these threats seriously in Alabama. Unfortunately, we have a fatal history with bombings in Alabama, and we do not take them lightly,” Smitherman said. “By toughening the law, we hope to dissuade perpetrators from considering threats or acts of violence. We also want to give law enforcement an additional tool in combatting this problem.”

The amendment, introduced on March 16 in the Alabama Senate further defines the crime of making a terrorist threat which already is addressed in state laws. Smitherman said he is confident the bill will receive bi-partisan support, because of the level of concern lawmakers have expressed in addressing this issue.

Birmingham-area Christian and Muslim communities are among those that have spoken out against bomb threats targeting the Levite Jewish Community Center on Montclair Road. And when the Birmingham Islamic Society received a threat by email last month it received wide-ranging support from friends in the faith community.

Last month, the interfaith coalition Faith in Action Alabama held a prayer rally at the Levite Jewish Community Center to show support for Jews and Muslims.

In mid-February, a program entitled “Stand as One: Empowering Marginalized Voices in Birmingham” was held on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The event drew individuals and groups seeking ways to make Birmingham more inclusive. Among those involved were faith-based, community, and academic organizations that discussed challenges faced by the groups they serve; strategies they are implementing to address those challenges; and ways to promote collaboration and stand for justice and human rights.

The groups that partnered for the “Stand as One” event included the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice; Black Lives Matter Birmingham Chapter; the Birmingham Islamic Society; Disability Rights and Resources; Greater Birmingham Ministries; the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama; the Magic City Acceptance Center; and the National Organization of Women Birmingham Chapter.