A key part of Elder Oaks’s much-discussed argument regarding endangered religious freedom from earlier this year was the idea that religious people, and presumably Mormons in particular, are subject to a disproportionate set of attacks based on religion with the goal of silencing our political voice. The goal side of that equation is hard to tackle, but the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics, 2008, report provides some hard evidence regarding the comparative identity-based victimization of different groups during 2008 — the Year of the California Proposition.
First, it’s worth noting that the report provides some evidence of the lingering racial problems in American society; about 1/3 of all hate-crimes victims were African Americans victimized on the basis of their race. However, it’s also the case that 1,519 hate-crimes incidents were recorded based on religion. Certainly America does have some problem of violence and crime toward people based on religion.
Yet the numbers bear closer examination. Of victims of hate crimes based on religion, fully 66% were Jewish. Christians in general represent somewhere between 8% and 22% of victims (the range is broad because the FBI reports crimes against Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and “Other Religions,” the latter category possibly containing some Christian groups, conceivably including LDS folks). Any value in that range suggests that Christians as a group are distinctly underrepresented among the set of victims of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the U.S., given that the share of Americans who are Christian is clearly well above 22%.
A comparison of hate crimes based on religion versus hate crimes based on sexual orientation is interesting. There were 1,732 victims of anti-religious hate crimes during 2008, as against 1,706 victims of anti-sexual-orientation hate crimes. (For those who are curious, 34 of those victims represent anti-heterosexual crime.) Also interesting is this fact: there were 632 known perpetrators of hate crimes based on religion, over against 1460 perpetrators related to sexual orientation.
Generally speaking, it is hard to tell how many of the crimes based on religion were against Mormons. If Mormons are classified as Protestant, then the number is very small; there were 62 victims of crimes that were anti-Protestant in nature. On the other hand, Mormons may be categorized among “other religions,” and there may thus be as many as 222 victims of anti-Mormon crime. Yet it seems implausible to attribute all the “other religion” crimes to Mormons; surely Scientologists, etc., were some of the victims as well.
But what the data do seem to clearly suggest is that hate crimes follow social marginality. African Americans, Jews, gays and lesbians, and Latinos are the major victims of identity-based crime. There is no general pattern of identity-based crime against religion, given that established religions like Catholicism and Protestantism barely register in the data. If there is an increasing pattern of hate crimes against Mormons, it evidently does not translate into a generalized assault on religious freedom. It is probably also small, as the increase in the relevant category of victims from 2007 is either roughly zero or about eighty.