President Obama on Friday signed a bill authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) that would allow U.S. economic sanctions against those in foreign countries who damage or desecrate cemeteries.
The idea for Protect Cemeteries Act was first broached to Meng by her constituents in the Queens Jewish community, who long have had concerns about the resting places of their relatives and ancestors overseas, many in places where there are no longer Jewish communities to preserve and protect the graves.
Meng, in a statement issued by her office, said a major aim is to combat anti-Semitism and religiously-motivated vandalism.
“Which occurs with alarming regularity,” according to the congresswoman.
It also is intended to prevent developers from building over cemeteries, which Meng’s office said has become a new and emerging threat in places where no Jewish communities remain.
It also is the first bill written by Meng, a House freshman, that has been signed into federal law.
“I applaud President Obama for signing this important bipartisan legislation into law,” Meng said. “This 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.”
The bill effectively was an amendment of the International Religious Freedom Act, which was established to give some economic teeth to U.S. efforts to combat acts of religious persecution around the world.
Meng credited Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) with shepherding the measure through the U.S. Senate.
“And I commend all my colleagues in both houses who supported it,” Meng said.
The act also empowers the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which works to identify and preserve cemeteries, memorials and buildings in other countries that are associated with the cultural heritage of Americans.