With dramatic unanimity, the sacred scriptures of diverse religious traditions vehemently condemn hate; it is neither a religious nor an American value. Any crime committed by one human being against another is a tragedy, but a crime that is motivated by hatred and prejudice tears apart the lives of those targeted, their loved ones, and the larger group they represent. These are among the reasons why Interfaith Alliance has been a staunch supporter of federal and state hate crimes laws and of efforts to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place.
What Makes Hate Crimes Different?
Hate crimes escalate prejudice, often against minority groups, into violence. A criminal act can be classified as a hate crime when the perpetrator targets the victim because of the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Forty-five states and DC punish these crimes more harshly because the perpetrator intentionally chose to harm someone because of their actual or perceived characteristics. Victims may be afraid to come forward for fear of increased stigma or retraumatization by law enforcement.
Interfaith Alliance pressed for a federal hate crimes law for over 10 years. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 ultimately passed with the support of nearly three hundred civil rights, religious, educational, professional, and civic organizations and virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country. The act allows the federal government to assist in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes or, in some circumstances, to do so when a locality is unable or unwilling to.
On October 26, 2018, Matthew Shepard was laid to rest at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. A memorial bench in James Byrd, Jr.‘s hometown of Jasper, Texas, bears the inscription “Be The Change That You Want To See In The World.” Both men’s legacies live on through foundations in their names.
Standing Together In a Polarized World
As an organization committed to combating religious discrimination and bigotry, we are acutely aware that hate groups are becoming more vocal, visible, and violent. We will not accept as normal an administration that dismisses hate crimes and speech by claiming that fault lies on all sides. Interfaith Alliance will continue to stand with our neighbors who face hatred and discrimination, with the knowledge that our freedoms are inextricably tied to theirs.