Good news for people of faith: hate crimes committed against people because of their religion is on the decline, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In its 2007 Hate Crime Statistics report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation documented 1,477 offenses that were directed against a person’s religion, down from 1,597 offenses in 2006.
More than a third of all hate crimes in 2007 were categorized as vandalism or property destruction.
Of all religious hate crimes in 2007, hate crimes directed at Catholics constituted 4 percent, down from 5 percent in 2006. The report also showed religiously based hate crime statistics for Protestants (4 percent), other religions (9.5 percent), followers of multiple religions (4.3 percent), and Atheists/Agnostics (0.4 percent).
Hate crimes committed against gay and lesbian people, however, jumped by six percent.
The FBI include “sexual orientation” in the list of statistics they collect from law enforcement around the country, but the federal hate crimes law does not include that category – something the House has been trying to change with H.R. 1592.
Ironically, religious people, who are luckily suffering fewer attacks, are opposed to H.R. 1592 because it might limit their ability to use their words to spur even more attacks on gay and lesbian people – um, I mean, their “freedom of speech.”
Pastors and religious leaders have strongly denounced the legislation, H.R. 1592, saying the expanded hate-crime laws would infringe on their freedom of speech and incriminate them for expressing their biblical views on moral issues such as homosexuality.
It was pointed out recently, thanks to Sarah Palin’s complaint that her “freedom of speech” was being trampled by anyone who dared to criticize her, that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee “freedom of speech” for individual hateful and divisive opinions. Instead the First Amendment bars Congress from making a law “abridging the freedom of speech.”
Polls show most people understand this important distinction.
A Gallup poll following the House’s vote on the bill, however, found that a majority of Americans, including Protestants, supported the expansion of the hate crimes bill to include offenses against people because of their gender or sexual orientation. The poll also showed 65 percent of Protestant and other non-Catholic Christians said they would favor the move.
Perhaps, under an Obama administration, a gay or lesbian person’s freedom to breathe will trump the religious right’s “freedom of speech” canard.