Hate Crime Laws

About Hate Crimes

Since 1968, when Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, the first federal hate crimes statute, the Department of Justice has been enforcing federal hate crimes laws.  The 1968 statute made it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is participating  in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so.  In 1968, Congress also made it a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to interfere with housing rights because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; in 1988, protections on the basis of familial status and were added.  In 1996, Congress passed the Church Arson Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 247.  Under this Act, it is a crime to deface, damage, or destroy religious real property, or interfere with a person’s religious practice, in situations affecting interstate commerce.  The Act also bars defacing, damaging, or destroying religious property because of the race, color, or ethnicity of persons associated with the property.  

In 2009, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the federal definition of hate crimes, enhancing the legal toolkit available to prosecutors, and increasing the ability of federal law enforcement to support our state and local partners.  This law removed then existing jurisdictional obstacles to prosecutions of certain race- and religion-motivated violence.,, and added new federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.  Before the Civil Rights Division prosecutes a hate crime, the Attorney General or someone the Attorney General designates must certify, in writing, that (1) the state does not have jurisdiction; (2) the state has requested that the federal government assume jurisdiction; (3) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to state charges did not demonstratively vindicate the federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence; or (4) a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.  In the seven years since the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act, the Justice Department has charged 72 defendants and convicted 45 defendants under this statute.  In total, as of July 15, 2016, the department has charged 258 defendants for hate crimes under multiple statutes over the last seven years.

 

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S.C. § 249 

The Shepard Byrd Act makes it a federal crime to willfully cause bodily injury, or attempt to do so using a dangerous weapon, because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin. The Act also extends federal hate crime prohibitions to crimes committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person, only where the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.  The Shepard-Byrd Act is the first statute allowing federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

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

This statute makes it a crime to use, or threaten to use force to interfere with housing rights because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. 

Damage to Religious Property, Church Arson Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 247

This statute prohibits the intentional defacement, damage, or destruction of religious real property because of the religious nature of the property, where the crime affects interstate or foreign commerce, or because of the race, color, or ethnic characteristics of the people associated with the property.  The statute also criminalizes the intentional obstruction by force, or threat of force of any person in the enjoyment of that person’s free exercise of religious beliefs.

 

Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights, 18 U.S.C. § 245

This statute makes it a crime to use, or threaten to use force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is participating  in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so.

 

Conspiracy Against Rights, 18 U.S.C. § 241

This statute makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory, or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or the laws of the U.S.

Updated July 28, 2017