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Selected Federal Civil Rights Statutes

U.S. Attorneys bring civil rights cases in their districts in consultation and coordination with the Department’s Civil Rights Division. Together, they enforce a wide array of laws that protect the civil rights of all individuals. The following are examples of some of the statutes the U.S. Attorneys use to uphold our civil rights.

18 U.S.C. § 249
Hate Crimes

This statute makes it unlawful to willfully cause bodily injury—or attempting to do so with fire, firearm, or other dangerous weapon—when 1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person, or 2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.

18 U.S.C. § 242
Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law

This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. This law further prohibits a person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to willfully subject or cause to be subjected any person to different punishments, pains, or penalties, than those prescribed for punishment of citizens on account of such person being an alien or by reason of his or her color or race.

Acting under “color of any law” includes acts not only by federal, state, or local officials within the bounds or limits of their lawful authority, but also acts done without and beyond the bounds of their lawful authority; provided that, in order for unlawful acts of any official to be done under “color of any law,” the unlawful acts must be done while such official is purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his or her official duties.

18 U.S.C. §§ 1581-1594
Human Trafficking

These statutes make it unlawful to use force or threats of force or other forms of coercion to compel labor or services, including commercial sex acts, from victims. Modern day slavery can involve migrant farm laborers, sweat shop workers, domestic servants, and brothel workers. Victims may be U.S. citizens or aliens, or adults or children.

18 U.S.C. § 245
Federally Protected Activities

This statute prohibits willful injury, intimidation, or interference, or attempt to do so, by force or threat of force of any person or class of persons because of their activity as:

  • a voter, or person qualifying to vote;
  • a participant in any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility, or activity provided or administered by the United States;
  • an applicant for federal employment or an employee by the federal government;
  • a juror or prospective juror in federal court; and
  • a participant in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

This statute also prohibits willful injury, intimidation, or interference or attempt to do so, by force or threat of force of any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because of his or her activity as:

  • a student or applicant for admission to any public school or public college;
  • a participant in any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility, or activity provided or administered by a state or local government;
  • an applicant for private or state employment, private or state employee; a member or applicant for membership in any labor organization or hiring hall; or an applicant for employment through any employment agency, labor organization or hiring hall;
  • a juror or prospective juror in state court;
  • a traveler or user of any facility of interstate commerce or common carrier; or
  • a patron of any public accommodation that is principally engaged in providing lodging to transient guests (inn, hotel, motel), selling food or beverage for consumption on the premises (restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom), places of exhibition or entertainment (theater, concert hall, sports arena), and of any gasoline station.

18 U.S.C. § 247
Damage to Religious Property;
Obstruction of Persons in the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs

This statute prohibits the intentional defacement, damage, or destruction of any religious real property, because of the religious, racial, or ethnic characteristics of that property, or the intentional obstruction by force or threat of force, or attempts to obstruct any person in the enjoyment of that person’s free exercise of religious beliefs.

42 U.S.C. § 3631
Interference with Right to Fair Housing

This statute makes it unlawful for any individual, by the use of force or threatened use of force, to injure, intimidate, or interfere with (or attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with), any person’s housing rights because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. Among those housing rights enumerated in the statute are:

  • the sale, purchase, or renting of a dwelling;
  • the occupation of a dwelling;
  • the financing of a dwelling;
  • contracting or negotiating for any of the rights enumerated above.
  • applying for or participating in any service, organization, or facility relating to the sale or rental of dwellings.

This statute also makes it unlawful for any individual, by the use of force or threatened use of force, to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person who is assisting an individual or class of persons in the exercise of their housing rights.