In the wake of a violent crime spree in which a Manchester man allegedly targeted members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood and Jackson, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) penned a letter to the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation April 10, asking for an investigation into whether antisemitism had motivated the attacks. Coinciding with the eve of the Jewish Sabbath on April 8, the attacks were allegedly carried out by Dion Marsh, 27, and included carjacking, assaulting a driver, running over pedestrians and shouting antisemitic slurs.

Just 10 days after Smith’s letter, Marsh was charged with federal hate crimes, including four counts of violating the federal Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Each of the three hate crimes violations charging Marsh with attempting to kill the victims carries a statutory maximum term of life in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to officials. 

“Tragically, attacks like the one we recently witnessed are reflective of the historically high levels of hatred directed at Jews across the United States and throughout the world,” said Smith in the letter. “The federal hate crime charges brought against Dion Marsh are a chilling reminder of the ugly reality that antisemitism won’t go away by ignoring or wishing it away. It must be defeated,” wrote the Congressman, who co-chairs the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism and sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The original news release from Smith's office may be viewed HERE.

Informed by Faith

Smith’s longstanding work to fight antisemitism stems from his firmly held belief in religious freedom. The Congressman, who is a practicing Catholic and member in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, acknowledged that his faith informs much of his advocacy, including pro-life legislation and human trafficking, as well. He noted a growing need for laws against hate crimes as practice of religion wanes throughout society.

“As people jettison their faith in God, there’s a need for an increase in laws in relation to that loss of faith,” Smith said, referencing a point introduced in writings of Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. “When the 10 Commandments are written in your heart … you’re far less likely to commit the crimes that the state now has to put on the books … with a loss of faith, there’s a concurrent increase in violent behavior.”

Smith has a longstanding record of participating in congressional subcommittees and hearings related to human rights. In February 2013 he presided over a hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – specifically to address the rise in antisemitism at home and abroad.

Emphasizing the need for prosecution of hate crimes at a federal level, Smith said that it sends a very clear message to potential criminals.

“The law is a great teacher, state or federal,” he said. “It prioritizes the importance we give as a society [and demonstrates] that we have zero tolerance. With the overlay of federal law … we hope it has a chilling effect and a warning – accountability, and a clear message about what we prioritize in terms of prosecution.”

Noting that the crimes attributed to Marsh will be prosecuted at more than one venue, including the convening of a grand jury, Smith said that “the criminal penalty needs to be commensurate with the crime … and for those victimized, there is some sense of justice being accomplished. That’s important; it doesn’t bring back a loved one or heal a disability [caused by violent crime], but it does give a sense of justice.

“If you don’t prosecute [violent crimes], it wittingly enables more of the same,” Smith concluded.

What the Church Teaches

Two documents of the Second Vatican Council present the teachings of the Church on matters of religious freedom and religious persecution, including antisemitism: Dignitatis Humanae – Declaration on Religious Liberty, and Nostra Aetate – Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, in which the Council acknowledges the special ties which link “the people of the New Covenant to the stock of Abraham,” briefly exploring the relationship of the Church to Judaism.

“In her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” (Nostra Aetate).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses, "The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Testament,” while Pope Francis continues to strongly condemn antisemitism, referring to it as “a fuse that must not be allowed to burn. And the best way to defuse it is to work together, positively, and to promote fraternity.”

Remembering the Past

In a statement issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Smith wrote, “Tragically, the same antisemitic hate that fueled the systemic murder campaign waged by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis against innocent Jews plagues the world today in its many manifestations.

 “The Anti-Defamation League’s annual report released earlier this week shows yet another alarming spike in the number of antisemitic incidents over the past year, soaring to the highest level ever recorded in U.S. history.

 “With hatred against the Jewish community escalating, we recommit and redouble our efforts on this solemn day to not only prevent and combat antisemitism but to defeat it in all of its evil forms.”