Rabbi Aryeh Ballaban from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati told the Ohio Capital Journal on Monday that he wholeheartedly supports a new state law applying stiffer penalties to persons who interrupt a religious service. The measure passed the Ohio House in April and is now up for approval in the state’s Senate.
“I have a disturbing number of colleagues who have seen their flocks engaged in worship be disrupted, harassed, and intimidated,” Rabbi Ballaban said. “It is simply unacceptable that there are Jewish communities where things like funeral services, shared digitally with those who mourn at a distance, are sometimes interrupted with things like Nazi symbolism, pornography, and racial slurs.”
In May 2020, the ADL reported about “Zoombombing,” citing a March 24, 2020 incident when a white supremacist interrupted a webinar about antisemitism hosted by a Massachusetts Jewish student group by pulling his shirt collar down to reveal a swastika tattoo on his chest.
A day later, a similar incident took place in California when someone disrupted an online class hosted by a JCC and the perpetrator launched into a minutes-long, profanity-laced, antisemitic rant and removed his shirt to display a swastika tattoo on his chest. The Center on Extremism examined screenshots of the individual behind both incidents and believes him to be Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, a known white supremacist and hacker.
Other proponents of the Ohio legislation described protestors who interfered in a local Respect Life Mass at Columbus’ St. Joseph Cathedral last January.
Both of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Chillicothe, and former Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, are Catholic.
Michael Rodgers, representing Ohio’s Attorney General’s office, told the state judiciary committee last week that the Sacred Spaces Act intends to boost existing law that “already states the disruption of a lawful meeting is punishable as a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.”
“House Bill 504 builds upon this existing section of Ohio law and adds an enhancement if the meeting that is disrupted is an assemblage of people met for religious worship,” Rodgers explained.
The bill passed the Ohio House by 95-1.