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Religious Tolerance logo

Hate crimes in the U.S.

Confusion over hate crimes:
what they are and what they are not

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What hate crimes are:

A hate crime is a crime of violence that is motivated by hatred of the group to which the victim belongs. Typically, the perpetrator and the victim are strangers to each other. For example, gay bashing involves a violent homophobe and a victim from the gay, lesbian or bisexual community.

The rage of the perpetrator is directed both at the victim, and at the group to which the victim belongs. The perpetrator might beat up one person, but the crime was motivated by hatred for everyone who bears some similarity to the victim -- perhaps hatred of all people of the victim's race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Since the crime is typically:


at least partly and sometimes mainly directed at the victim's community,


Involves violence and sometimes death,


occurs at an unpredictable time and location,


victimizes a randomly selected person who is a stranger to the perpetrator,

some consider it a type of terrorist act.

As HR 1913, a hate crimes bill passed by the federal House in 2009, states: "Such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive." It is titled: "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009." 

What hate crimes are not:

Hate crimes are not hate speech. Many people -- including legislators and news organizations -- confuse the two.

The bill discussed in this section is titled: "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009." Matthew Shepard was a gay university student in Wyoming who was the victim of a gay bashing because of his sexual orientation. Hw was later crucified by the same perpetrators. James Byrd was a black man in Texas who was dragged to death behind a truck because of hatred of his race. Now, those are hate crimes. Both atrocities happened in 1989 when federal hate crimes legislation was first introduced.

Hate speech is also motivated by hatred of the "Other." But it is confined to words and involves no physical violence.

In the U.S., hate speech is legal protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Otherwise a famous teleminister would have been charged when he advocated stoning Pagans to death, and a Baptist minister in Texas would have been charged for advocating that the U.S. Army round up Wiccans and napalm them to death.

In Canada, existing law criminalizes the advocacy of genocide towards certain select groups. However hate speech short of genocide is not a criminal act if it is based on religious belief.

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Conflicts over hate crime legislation:

There are some points of disagreement -- and yes, they are talking about the same law.

Such a massive difference in understanding is caused by an almost total lack of dialogue between religious/social conservatives and the rest of the population:


Some say: Others say:
Is legislation needed?
Yes, because hate motivated crime is special. Hatred is directed at an entire community, in addition to the immediate victim. It is a terrorist act.
No, because only the immediate victim is violently attacked. Hate crimes should be treated under existing laws as common assaults.
Will hate crime legislation impact freedom of speech? No. Freedom of speech, including hate speech, is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution. The proposed bill targets only actions that are criminal acts of violence.

Pastors might be charged with a hate crime because they simply read anti-gay passages from the Bible, if one of their congregation was later motivated by the sermon to commit violence.
Are hate crimes common?
For one example, about 40% of homosexual adults report having been physically attacked by people who hate their perceived sexual orientation.
No. They are quite rare. The FBI reports that there are only about 1,300 anti-gay hate crimes per year among over 300 million Americans.
Who would be protected by the proposed law?
Everyone, eight times over.

Each American would be protected against violent crime motivated by hatred of their gender, color, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, nationality or religion.
This is really a law to give special rights and protections to homosexuals, while restricting the rights of Christians. It is payback to homosexuals for their political support to the Democratic party.
Exactly who would the "sexual orientation" clause protect? It would protect victims of violent crimes in which the perpetrator was motivated by a hatred of people who experience sexual attraction only to the opposite sex, or to both sexes, or only to the same sex. That is, the victim is, or believed to be by the perpetrator, a heterosexual, bisexual gay or lesbian.

According to Concerned Women for America, the Traditional Values Coalition, etc.. there are not three but 30 or more sexual orientations including homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals, transsexuals, transgender persons, as well as people who engage in incest, pedophilia, hebephilia, ephebophilia, bestiality (sex with animals), exhibitionism, necrophilia (sex with corpses), etc. All of these would be protected equally under the law.
Would the proposed law give special treatment to any specific group? No. The hate crimes bill would give equal protection to persons of all genders, races, colors, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and degrees of disability.
 Many information sources by religious and social conservatives dwell on the protection that the hate crimes bill would give to homosexuals. A casual reader of their news bulletins might be unaware that it also protects heterosexuals and bisexuals, women, men, intersexuals, disabled persons, etc.

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Copyright © 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-SEP-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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