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Religious Tolerance logo

Hate crime legislation in the U.S.

Introduction: Quotations; updating
legislation; current status of bills

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Interpretations differ on:

bulletThe types of behaviors covered by the bill,
bulletThe persons that the bill would protect,
bulletThe persons that the bill would target as criminals,
bulletWhether hate speech would be covered by the bill in addition to hate crimes of violence.

This website has been online since 1995. During that time, we have never seen such a wide diversity of beliefs about a proposed piece of legislation. We have never seen so many really strange claims about a bill.

An eloquent quote about hate crimes themselves: sells a 5 volume set by Barbara Perry titled "Hate Crimes." Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. Warning: the price tag is massive.

The following quotation is taken from the book review:

"The twentieth century appeared to close much as it had opened - with sprees of violence directed against the Other. The murder of Matthew Shepard, the lynching of James Byrd, the murderous rampage of Benjamin Smith, and post-9/11 anti-Muslim violence all stand as reminders that the bigotry that kills is much more than an unfortunate chapter in U.S. history. Racial, gender, ethnic and religious violence persist. This riveting new set focused on hate crimes comes at a time when such acts are still not uncommon. The topic, then, remains relevant despite outcries for an end to such violence. It covers a wide variety of hate crimes, the consequences for both victims and perpetrators and their communities, efforts to combat hate crime, and other aspects of these ugly offenses that affect everyone."

"Rather than an individual crime, hate crime is, in fact, an assault against all members of stigmatized and marginalized communities. With respect to hate crime, at least, history does repeat itself as similar patterns of motivation, sentiment and victimization recur over time. Just as immigrants in the 1890s were subject to institutional and public forms of discrimination and violence, so too were those of the 1990s; likewise, former black slaves risked the wrath of the KKK when they exercised their newfound rights after the Civil War, just as their descendants risked violent reprisal for their efforts to win and exercise additional rights and freedoms in the civil rights era. While the politics of difference that underlie these periods of animosity may lie latent for short periods of time, they nonetheless seem to remain on the simmer, ready to resurface whenever a new threat is perceived - when immigration levels increase, or when relationships between groups shift for other political, economic, or cultural reasons, or in the aftermath of attacks like those on 9/11. Yet, understanding the scope of hate crimes is impossible without examining the victims, the offenders, the consequences and harms of hate crimes, and the actual definitions of just what hate crime is. This comprehensive five-volume set addresses these areas in careful analyses that take into account the variety and incidence of hate crimes and the impact they have on the broader realm of crime, punishment, communities, society, and the security of a pluralistic society that seeks to remain peaceful even in the face of change."

Some quotations showing diversity of beliefs on the scope of the bill:

bulletWho would be protected by bill HR 1913:
bulletThe text of the 2009 bill states: "Whoever ... willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person.... 1 [Note that the bill does not include the word "homosexual"]
bulletAs interpreted by "Homosexuals are protected from assault under the [existing] law just like everyone else, and what is sought is special rights and protection above what everyone else has. Essentially, they aim to make sexual deviancy a protected and privileged class above normal behavior, and to make speaking out against sexual deviancy a hate crime." 2

bulletConcerning hate speech by pastors and others:
bulletThe text of the bill states: "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution." 1
bulletAs interpreted by Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention: This bill puts Christians and many other religious groups in the government's cross hairs. Those who teach that homosexuality is contrary to God's design may find that they as well are targeted by this law." 3
bulletDoes the legislation criminalize thought?
bullet"Many people who are against this bill have said they oppose it because it makes thought a crime. It does not. This is about actions...motivated by hatred." Penfield Tate (D-Denver), commenting on 1999-APR-16 about a defeated Colorado hate crime bill, but equally applicable to the federal hate-crime bill HR 1913. 2
bulletAn anonymous New York City police detective said: "This [bill] should strike us all as inherently dangerous. Now we'll have feds looking over our shoulders to make certain we arrest people based on their views regarding homosexuality and others who would be protected by a federal law enforced by federal bureaucrats."

Special offers:

We posted the following offers during 2009-JUN:

bulletThis website is offering a $50 award to the first person who can demonstrate that the words "homosexual" or "gay" or "lesbian" appear somewhere in the actual text of bill HR 1913. So far, there have been no takers.
bulletWe are also offering a $50.00 award to the first person who can find any reference in the text of bill HR 1913 that criminalizes "hate speech" or "religious speech" by pastors or other religious leaders. So far, there have been no takers.

Updating hate crime legislation in the U.S.:

The assault, robbery, crucifixion, and assassination death on 1998-OCT-12 of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, breathed new life in to the call for an upgrade to the Federal hate crime law to include additional categories by which individuals are protected. 2,5,6 The current law has been in effect since 1968 and does protect people of different races, skin colors, national origins and religions. But it does not protect people on the basis of four other very important criteria:


Gender: female, male, and inter-sexual.


Sexual orientation: bisexual, heterosexual, and homosexual.


Gender identity: cisgendered, transsexual, transgender, and cisgendered. and


Disability: being able-bodied or disabled.

President Clinton commented when a hate-crimes bill was proposed under his administration that: "All Americans deserve protection from hate.

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Current status of hate crimes legislation:

Over a decade has passed since Shepard's crucifixion. 7 Many versions of a federal bill to expand hate-crimes protection to protect the above additional criteria have been proposed and discussed, None have become law.

The version previous to the current bill was introduced to Congress on 2007-MAR and APR. It was known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. It was later renamed the Matthew Shepard Act. It was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 237 to 180 on 2007-MAY-03. It was approved by the Senate by a voice vote on 2007-SEP-27. Partly because of President Bush's threatened veto, the act never became law.

The current bill was introduced to the House in early 2009-APR. It was passed there and passed by the Senate during 2009-JUL. President Obama is strongly in favor of the bill and will probably be pleased to sign it.

Although several hate crime bills had been introduced into the Wyoming legislature -- the state where Shepard was crucified -- the Anti-defamation League reports that the state remains without a hate crime law protecting people of different races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, sexual identities, disability status, etc. 8

Also in this section, we describe a related topic: the propaganda/hate speech section of the Canadian criminal code that passed during 2004. Unlike the United States, which freely permits hate speech, Canada follows the British model which criminalizes certain forms of hate speech. Special exemptions are provided in the law to allow hate propaganda within churches and in religious speech generally. In spite of a major effort by some religious groups, no exemption was provided in the legislation to permit religious speech that advocates genocide -- the extermination of an entire group of people.

It is very important to differentiate between laws that target hate crimes of violence and hate speech. Some critics have been confusing the two types of laws and stating that the 2009 hate crimes law will really target hate speech.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009: H.R. 1913" at:
  2. "Gay martyr used to promote hate crime legislation: Emotions running high in skillfully manipulated media event," The WINDS, 1998-OCT-13, at:
  3. Adelle Banks, "Conservatives nervous as hate crimes bill advances," Religious News Service, 2009-MAY-01, at:
  4. Gregory Herek, et al., "Hate crime victimization among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults," Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(2): Pages 195-215. 
  5. "Local and national groups call for hate crime legislation following brutal Wyoming murder," 1998-OCT-12, at:
  6. "GBCS decries attack on gay Wyoming student and calls for passage of hate crime legislation," General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church, at:
  7. The Matthew Shepard Foundation 'Erase Hate' project," at:
  8. "State Hate Crimes Statutory Provisions," ADL, at:
  9. Jim Kouri, "New hate crimes bill criminalizes words and thoughts," NewsWithViews, 2009-MAY-03, at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-OCT-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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