Religiously Motivated Hate Crime Essay

Hate crimes are acts of violence, intolerance, and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of his or her race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Religiously motivated hate crimes are an integral part of interpersonal violence in the United States. In 2000, there were 9,721 reported cases of single-bias incidents. Of these, 18.8% were determined to be religiously motivated. The violence perpetrated in a hate crime, including a religiously based motive, affects not only that individual and his or her family, but also the community with similar religious characteristics as the victim.

Federal and State Legislation

During the 1960s, the federal government passed several statutes to protect individuals from discrimination due to race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious prejudice. Prior to the passage of hate crime legislation, the police classified incidents of religious intimidation and harassment under the headings of “suspicious circumstances” or “malicious mischief.” Due to rising public pressure, Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HSCA) in 1990. The Act requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect data from law enforcement agencies on crimes that manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Every year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the DOJ, must publish a summary of the findings. The HSCA has brought distinct awareness to hate crimes, strongly encouraging law enforcement to provide bias training. In 1996, Congress passed the Church Arson Prevention Act, which criminalizes any intentional destruction, damage, or defacement to religious property primarily due to the fact that it is religious property. Furthermore, the act punishes those who interfere with an individual’s free exercise of religious beliefs.

On the state level, 45 states have enacted statutes that give broader protections against hate crimes, and all of them protect individuals from religiously motivated crimes.

Crime Reporting

On the federal level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are the law enforcement agencies authorized to conduct investigations into federal hate crimes and assist local police with hate crime investigations. For example, in a recent hate crimes case in Alabama, local law enforcement teamed with FBI agents to investigate several church arsons.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program is the only national data collection program. The FBI has encouraged local jurisdictions to report incidents of crimes, including hate crimes, using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, but participation by police departments in reporting systems is voluntary, so not all jurisdictions participate. Furthermore, studies show that the law enforcement agencies that participate in these reporting systems sometimes deflate their hate crime statistics. The most frequent form of religiously motivated hate crime, according to these reports, is intimidation tactics, followed by the destruction of property.

Examples of Incidents of Religiously Motivated Hate Crimes

Violence against Muslims

Several cities saw an increase in anti-Muslim violence following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2001, there were 481 anti-Islamic hate crimes reported to the FBI, an increase of 1,700%, most thought to be related to September 11. Many Muslim women who wear traditional head scarves, or hijabs, were afraid to travel alone during the immediate post-9/11 period, concerned that they would be subject to anti-Muslim slurs, harassment, and even physical violence.

Violence against Jews

Historically, anti-Semitism, or hatred, prejudice, and discrimination toward Jews, has fueled religiously motivated bias crimes against this population. Jewish synagogues and areas where large congregations of Jewish immigrants and families live have been targets of anti-Semitic attacks, including verbal taunts and slurs, and swastika spray paintings. Recently, teenagers who are self-identified Nazis were arrested in New York for beating a group of girls who they believed were Jewish.

Community Education

Several federal departments fund various organizations to develop programs and provide training seminars and technical assistance to individuals and local agencies regarding hate crimes. There needs to be a strong community response to religiously motivated hate crimes, in order to avoid the polarization of groups and the targeted group’s isolation and escalation of hate-motivated violence in the name of self-defense.

There are several national organizations that tackle religious prejudice and hate. For example, the AntiDefamation League, an organization whose mission is to “stop the defamation of Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all,” develops curriculum and teaching tools for educators to utilize with their students. The Council on American-Islamic Relations works to address the understanding of Islam by encouraging dialogue and educating the community about civil liberties. Other groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union, do community education through litigation and policy advocacy.


  1. Anti-Defamation League. (2007, January). Education & Resources. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from
  2. Human Rights Watch. (2002, November). We are not the enemy. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from
  3. National Criminal Justice Service. (2003, August). Hate crime: A summary. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from

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