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Rediff.com  » News » US House passes bill condemning gurudwara massacre

US House passes bill condemning gurudwara massacre

September 14, 2012 12:19 IST

The United States House of Representatives on Thursday passed by unanimous consent House Resolution 775, a legislation condemning the horrific massacre that killed six Sikh worshippers and priests at a gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5.

Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, was the point man in securing the support of his fellow lawmakers in securing the bill's passage. He was also the original co-sponsor of the legislation, who had pledged to work to quickly bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Royce praised the bill's quick passage just three days after it was introduced.   

The resolution was introduced by Congressman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and the GOP vice presidential running mate to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. 

Royce, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "In the days following this horrific attack, I vowed to pass a resolution condemning it the week Congress reconvened.  I applaud Representative Ryan for drafting it and working to see that it came to the floor."

"With its passage, the US House of Representatives has now made an important statement," he said.

Royce spoke of how "horrified" he was "by the shootings, which unfolded in a place of worship -- women, children, elderly -- all present."

The carnage was perpetrated by Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi, who took his own life after he was confronted by law enforcement officers.

Royce said, "Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Sikh community, which has made countless contributions to our country".

He acknowledged, "This resolution might not ease the pain of those affected by this tragedy, but it does display our commitment to religious tolerance, to show that we denounce hate-inspired violence."

"Every American should be treated with respect and dignity, and safe in their place of  worship.  This resolution reaffirms that there is no tolerance in our country for such terrorist acts of bigotry," he added.

In securing the passage of this bill, Royce was keeping his promise made to rediff.com, in an exclusive interview in the immediate aftermath of the horrific massacre, that he would push for legislation condemning this carnage as soon as Congress reconvenes after its summer recess, and he did just that on the first day the US lawmakers returned to Washington.

Congress has been out of session since August 3, making September 10 the first day this resolution could be introduced.

Sources told rediff.com  that even though Ryan introduced the resolution, dictated by protocol since he was the senior member of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation, it was Royce who directed the passage of this bill, particularly since Ryan was busy on the campaign trail and  unlikely to attend to much legislative business unless he was called upon to be present for important votes.

When the bill was introduced, Royce said, "I am proud to join Rep. Paul Ryan as an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation denouncing this act of terror against the Sikh community in Wisconsin."

"Since the tragic events that unfolded in early August, I have had a number of opportunities to visit Sikh temples across Orange County.  This attack shook the Sikh community throughout the United States," he said.

Royce said it was imperative that "we must educate the public, letting them know of the commitment to service, equality, and tolerance embedded in Sikhism."

At the time, Royce pointed out that "Because the attack took place while Congress was out of session, today (September 10) is the first opportunity to introduce this resolution.  I will press to quickly bring the bill to the floor for a vote."

The resolution in condemning the shooting that "killed six innocent people at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on August 5, 2012, resolved that the US House of Representatives "condemns the senseless attack," and "offers condolences to the families, friends, and loved ones who were killed in the attack and expresses hope for the full recovery of those injured in the attack."

It also said that the US House of Representatives "honours the selfless, dedicated service of (a) the emergency response teams and law enforcement officials who responded to the attack; and (b) law enforcement officials who continue to investigate the attack."
 
The resolution stated that the US Congress "remains hopeful, as additional details regarding the attack are gathered, that the citizens of this country will come together, united in a shared desire for peace and justice while standing with the Sikh community to grieve the loss of life."
 
In its preamble, the resolution also praised the "many individuals and members of the Sikh community who selflessly sought to aid and protect others above their own safety," and also showered kudos for the "quick action of law enforcement officials," that it said, "prevented additional losses of life."  

In the interview with rediff.com, following the massacre, Royce had vowed to demand answers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as to how this  massacre of innocent Sikh worshipers could have happened in a gurdwara.

Page had been on the radar of hate-watch groups for over a decade.

Royce also pledged that when Congress reconvenes after the summer recess, he would move for a Congressional resolution condemning this horrific carnage and introduce legislation to protect this community from such attacks in the future.
 
He said, "In the coming days, I will be watching the FBI's investigation closely to see what steps need to be taken, and if mistakes were made  -- because some initial reports indicate that this man was on the radar screen previously -- and if so, how this was allowed to happen."
 
"We all want answers. I will also be listening closely to the Sikh community and to their needs," he added.
 
Royce said it is clear that "From this music -- the music that comes from these types of racist white power bands -- are incredibly violent and they talk about murdering Jews, and murdering black people, and murdering gay people, and a whole host of other enemies."
 
Beyond that, Royce said the legislation he would introduce would be a template of legislation he had gotten approved in the California legislature many years ago to protect congregations.
 
"I passed legislation in California to protect parishioners, or I should say, congregations from attacks on churches and temples and synagogues, and the focus was on the threats that some were making to people."
 
Royce recalled that the legislation "criminalised those threats against those who worship and that legislation was upheld by the state Supreme Court. So, in California, we have a method where if someone threatened a temple, law enforcement would be able to respond and that individual would be committing a crime by threatening those who go to that temple."
 
He explained, "The intent was to broaden the focus of the law so that one did not have to wait until an individual carried out an attack. In other words, the concept was just like the anti-stalker legislation, which was another bill of mine, where the concept was to allow law enforcement to better monitor individuals who were making the threats and to have a nexus or a connection or have, I should say, a law under which they could be prosecuted and law enforcement could get involved before and actual attack occurred, on the basis of the threat -- a credible threat -- an individual would make."
 
The lawmaker said he would also like to see a comprehensive investigation "to see what his (Page's) background was in the US Army because we know he was given a discharge from the army for misconduct."
 
"What was the nature of that misconduct and to see if that would fall within any of the categories," that prohibit certain individuals to purchase a firearm, "because the goal is to see, since he was on the radar screen previously, how was this allowed to happen and how could this be tightened to prevent such situations."
 
Immediately following the massacre, Ryan was also quick to convey his condolences, issuing a statement saying, "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and everyone in Oak Creek who has been impacted by this tragic act of violence."
 
He said, "I am deeply saddened by this malicious crime and remain grateful for the selfless, dedicated service of the emergency response teams and law enforcement officials who continue to investigate this matter."
 
"As additional details are gathered, I am hopeful that we will all come together, united in a shared desire for peace and justice, and stand with the Sikh community as we grieve this loss of life," he said in language that constituted the basis of his resolution.

Aziz Haniffa In Washington, DC