Hate Crimes

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.


  1. S.P. Bailey says:

    “attacks” calculated to silence religious voices in the public square = hate crimes? Apples and oranges, I think.

  2. J.,

    Do you have any knowledge or guess about what percentage of the entire population of hate crimes are actually reported? In other words, do you know if a hate-crime victim–say, a targeted Jewish woman who is raped–is more or less likely to report the crime than, say, a woman who is targeted at random?

  3. Sidebottom says:

    Apples and oranges, indeed. Bully tactics used against religious expression (e.g. threatening tax-exempt status) aren’t even crimes, much less hate crimes.

  4. As the report indicates that not all agencies report hate crimes, I’m interested in what the demographics are of the areas that do report.

  5. S.P. Bailey & Sidebottom–

    I agree certainly that those two things are not the same, but I don’t think JNS took it so far as to equate them, nor do I think the comparison is irrelevant. It certainly seems reasonable to me that, if a group of people is awaking a sense of anger and venom in another group of people, one subset of the angered group would retaliate with “legal” attacks, while a (likely) smaller subset would retaliate with more hateful, illegal measures. It seems to me that JNS is simply saying that, as yet, the latter doesn’t appear to be happening.

  6. S.P. Bailey says:

    The first paragraph implies the equation of the two, no?

  7. Also, I suspect that some forms of vandalism–swastikas painted on synagogues, for instance–get reported as hate crimes in some places. It’s hard to tell without knowing the reporting criteria and procedures.

  8. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Vandalism that expresses an identity-based hatred is included according to the report Please note that nothing in the post is intended to claim that all threats are included as hate crimes. I’d also note that some “threats” such as trying to remove tax-exempt status are just part of normal politics and don’t count as an attack on anyone’s freedom. There is, nonetheless, almost certainly some universe of intimidating acts not included as hate crimes. My point here is simply to look at the better-documented subset.

    Regarding non-participation, examination of the participating cities in the report suggests that participation rates are pretty high, and that virtually all areas with large Mormon populations participate.

  9. Total Thread Jack:

    I have issues with the whole categorization of “Hate Crimes”. If you are committing a violent act against someone or someone’s property (regardless of the victim’s demographic category), shouldn’t that be a hate crime? Are not all violent crimes motivated by hate? Why must severity of the criminal implication be exacerbated just because of the victim’s demographic?

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    Here’s a timeline on the history of hate crimes legislation over the past twenty years:


  11. SP Bailey,
    No, not really to me, though I can see your point. Without the rest of the post, I would agree with you–but the rest of the post makes it clear to me, whether JNS intended such or not, that hate crime statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they are interesting.

    To me, the more problematic–or maybe not problematic, but more interesting–question is not the one JNS address in his conclusion–“If there is an increasing pattern of hate crimes against Mormons, it evidently does not translate into a generalized assault on religious freedom.”–but rather the other direction: Does a generalized assault on religious freedom translate into an increasing pattern of hate crimes against Mormons?

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    And here are some definitions:


    (sorry, I don’t know how to embed links here on BCC)

  13. No Mormon has been killed yet for his beliefs in regards to Prop 8 or gay rights issues. A couple of gays have been killed, however. The severity of “hate crimes” against Mormons is quite low, certainly not at any level that would indicate Mormons lose their ability to worship God as they see fit. And just for the record, losing tax exempt status in no way shape or form inhibits us from worshipping God.

  14. Fletcher, I’ve seriously had it with people asking that question. I know you’re you and not the hundred previous people I’ve had this discussion with, just letting you know why this might come out a little angry-like. But seriously, you have to be willfully out of it to think that spraypainting your initials on a random fence is the same as spraypainting a swastika on a synagogue. Whether or not you think it makes sense as a matter of policy to have different punishments for those two things, I guess reasonable people can disagree. But latching on to a literal interpretation of what is just the shorthand label of the thing (“hate”) is….gah!!!!

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Cynthia, your comment is a hate crime against people asking obvious questions.

  16. > Why must severity of the criminal implication be
    > exacerbated just because of the victim’s demographic?

    That’s your problem right there—your mistaken definition of hate crime. Hate crime is not “just because of the victim’s demographic.” That’s only what nuts like Hannity tell people the definition is, because they want to get people all riled up and telling the actual definition of hate crime isn’t likely to rile anyone up. Example: If you spraypaint your initials on an atheist’s fence, or a Jew’s fence, it makes no difference.

  17. Latter-day Guy says:

    Daniel, I was just discussing this with a family member, and I was wondering if you have any further information about those killings you mention. It would be nice to have some concrete example I can point to (particularly if the incidents are related to Prop 8).

  18. Okay Cynthia, I understand where you are coming from, and I am not trying to pick a fight.

    But what is the actual definition of Hate Crime? If you can trust Wikipedia (and I know Scott does, and I further doubt that Hannity wrote that definition), it is summarized as when a “perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.” Maybe demographic was not the best word choice.

    But to me, you (#16) example doesn’t quite play out. True, it wouldn’t be a hate crime if I spray painted my initials on both their houses. But what if it was a swastika on both houses? Hate crime for one? both? What if I fire bombed both houses? Shouldn’t that be a hate crime? What if I fire bombed only the Jewish house? This would definitely be considered a hate crime.

    My point is that all violent crimes should be penalized equally.

  19. Latter-day Guy says:

    I now realize saying “it would be nice” when referring to acts of violence/murder sounds completely horrible. Sorry all––not my intention.

  20. Fletcher,
    Er, thou shalt not bring me into this.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Fletcher, the point of a “hate crime” is not that hate is involved. The point is that the motivation for the crime is based in the victim’s social group. You’re getting hung up on the word “hate,” apparently, when what really distinguishes these crimes is motivation for the attack. Your examples in #18 don’t consider this.

    PS nobody believes that all violent crimes should be penalized equally.

  22. Steve Evans says:

    PPS and yes it’s a thread jack, and a rather lame one, so let’s stop it already.

  23. Apologies, Steve. No more from me.

  24. Latter Day Guy,

    I found one example of a gay man murdered in the wake of Prop 8. For my comment, I wasn’t thinking of this particular incident, but of others, particularly a very infamous one, the Matthew Sheppard murder. I honestly cannot remember the last time a Mormon was killed because of his religion here in America. I’m sure there is some case in the 20th century, but if not you’d have to go back to the 19th.

  25. Daniel, that’s a pretty tenuous link to Prop 8 in your link at best. It’s fairly well established that no gay person has been killed in anything related to Prop 8.

  26. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks very much, Daniel.

    “I honestly cannot remember the last time a Mormon was killed because of his religion here in America.”

    Yeah, I think our “persecution glands” as LDS folks are probably a little over-sensitive these days. We get worked up over things that our predecessors would’ve just shrugged off. (But I’m certainly no poster-child for even-handedness, so I can’t really comment!)

  27. Steve,

    I don’t imply that there is any direct correlation; I merely relay what is in the piece. My comment in #24 states “in the wake of Prop 8.” There are no incidents that I know of in California during the election period or after of murder on any side that is directly related to Prop 8. My overall point is that in their struggle to be treated fairly in American society, gays have been killed. The same cannot be said of Mormons over the past, say 100 years.

  28. Daniel, don’t play stupid word games with me. “In the wake of prop 8” does in fact suggest a correlation — that’s the purpose of the metaphor. Further, your overall point may be correct but your article does little to demonstrate it. It’s fine to want to make an obvious point, but there is no need to make spurious claims to do so.

  29. I’m not playing word games with you, but you’re clearly itching to smack me around, so I’ll retire for the evening.

  30. Thanks for this post, JNS. It’s a good dose of perspective.

    (As for hate crimes, the short version is this. We don’t penalize crimes equally. We never have. Murder of a cop is typically penalized more than murder of a non-cop. Premeditated murder more than unpremeditated. There are enhanced penalties for gang rape, conspiracy and RICO, and so on.

    This is for the simple reason that society judges some behaviors to be more harmful than others. Society places a special penalty on planning with others to kill someone in a mafia hit, rather than simply killing a random person, because we especially want to deter that kind of behavior. We believe that it creates especially high levels of harm.)

  31. Dan,


  32. I used to question the need for hate crime legislation until I thought about how punishments need to reflect how likely this person is going to do this again and how likely it would be that it could escalate.

    With random tagging-it’s not likely to escalate and the chance of it happening again is probable but it won’t likely won’t escalate. You deal with a random tagger differently-he needs supervision, a job, a good parole officer…

    Now with a hate crime (let’s use spray painted swastica), that is determined to be a hate crime-a large portion of the population is targeted as potential victims. The perp is more likely to act again and the behavior is likely to escalate because of the motivating hatred. His crime is premeditated-he choose people carefully and thus is more likely to increase the damage he does.

    I don’t know that I explained that well-but that’s how it makes sense to me.

    As far as they statistics…the huge number of racial hate crimes is overwelming to me. I really don’t get that. In my mind we’ve moved past that and I don’t like being reminded of how far we have to go.

  33. I think I’m more likely to be killed by a random person than by a mafia hitman. We’d better crack down on those random killers.

  34. Susan,

    I can’t speak for many other places, but here in New York, you are more likely to get killed by someone you know rather than some random person. So if you know a mafia dude, the chances of you dying have naturally increased. Random crimes are not that common these days.

  35. Exactly. I know no members of the mafia.

  36. I have heard of short retirements, but a buck twenty-three?

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 25
    You’re right, Steve. I never heard of any anti-gay violence related to Prop 8.

    There are still occasional gay bashings though; the last one I recall here in WeHo was the horrible Trev Broudy attack back in 2002. That scared the crap out of everybody in the ‘hood.

    This happened recently in NYC:
    The attackers pummeled the guy almost to death while shouting “faggot,” etc. My mom has had a lot of fear that something like this will happen to me. I don’t worry about it at all.

    It’s easy for me to understand why some people reacted negatively to Elder Oaks’ recent comments. Christians (including LDS) simply aren’t getting bashed in the streets in the U.S.

  38. If committing a murder because one loathes one’s victims’s religion, sexual orientation, or race is a “hate” crime, does ordinary murder (say because of greed, revenge, or sadistic pleasure) merely constitute “strong dislike?”

    I know it’s becoming a more accepted part of our jurisprudence, but asking judges and juries to ascertain when a crime becomes especially hateful seems dubious at best, not to mention unnecessary. We should simply vigorously prosecute criminal activities and direct additional resources in locales known to inculcate anti-gay, racist, and anti-semitic acts.

    Sorry for ignoring the worthy threads above.

  39. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Sorry for ignoring the worthy threads above.”

    Try reading 16, 21, and 30, for starters.

  40. “Sorry for ignoring the worthy threads above.”

    Try reading 16, 21, and 30, for starters.

    Or 14!!

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Holy cow thread-reading (and hate-crime understanding) FAIL.

  42. Bruce Rogers says:

    Many courts in our nation, including the Supreme Court, have had to confront the issue of freedom of speech (First Amendment to the Constitution), when dealing with matters of ‘hate crimes’. While the law of the land treats those cases, each of us must decide how we will react. If it is just words, then each of us can ‘turn the other cheek’, and try to avoid those situations. Most importantly, we must commit ourselves and teach our families to make sure that we never portray any type of that behavior. “Love your enemies, and do good to those who despitefully use you.”
    We must make sure that we are not ever guilty of that, but are peacemakers.

  43. Why penalize hate crimes? Numerous important reasons.

    For one thing, hate crimes have important ripple effects in the community. There is a huge difference between stupid high school kids burning stuff and vandalizing (which some dumb kids from my high school did), and people burning a cross on someone’s lawn. The latter sends a message of terror to the community. It promises additional violence to come.

    For another, hate crimes tend to have greater effects on victims. Studies show that victims of race-motivated attacks, for instance, tend to internalize a terror of a repeat incident, at a much higher rate than other crime victims. Not that other crime victims are not traumatized; but statistically, they are much quicker to recover from the crime.

    Why does the law treat opiates so disparately? (After all, we allow doctors to prescribe codeine, but we outlaw heroin entirely.) Simple — one is more harmful than the other.

    Same here. Is this really so hard of a concept to understand?

  44. “hate crimes follow social marginality”

    The distinction here is that Mormons were not socially marginalized by Proposition 8. Gays and Lesbians were. And there was one report of a 50% increase in violence to LGBT people in one county in California during 2008. Although the Deputy District Attorney credited the increase to Prop 8, there was only a small sample involved, so no one can say definitively that Prop 8 lead directly to an increase in hate crimes there.

    To be sure, similar observations have been made of other anti-gay ballot measures, such as those in Colorado and Oregon in 1992, where anti-gay violence increased dramatically and included the bias-related murder of a lesbian and a gay man during Oregon’s Ballot Measure 9 campaign.

    Perhaps Elder Oaks’ concern is that as Mormons continue to speak out politically they may at some time in the future be marginalized by society and become targets of violent attack. But I hardly think the opponents of Prop 8 have succeeded in turning the general population against Mormons.

  45. Steve et al,

    I hate to burst your bubble about the hate crime free lives led by gays and lesbians in the wake of Prop 8, but here is some much needed data and functional citations for this discussion.



  46. MikeInWeHo says:

    I don’t hear Steve or anyone else here saying gays have “hate crime free lives” Brad. The L.A. Times article seems credible enough, though. Clearly there was an uptick in mutual animosity after Prop 8, but that cut in both directions. I drove by El Coyote the night of the near riot, when a mob of (mostly) young gays and lesbians tried to hang Margie Christoffersen in effigy. Was that a hate crime?

  47. One of the links provided by Brad (#45) led me to the actual report (pdf) for 2008 hate crimes in Los Angeles County: http://humanrelations.co.la.ca.us/hatecrime/hatecrimereport.htm

    Hate crimes in this report consist of both violent and non-violent crimes, ranging from intimidation to murder. Of interest to this thread, page 12 of the report indicates that in LA County there were 109 such hate crimes committed against gay males, whereas only one crime reported against Mormons.

    Regarding the connection to Prop 8 specifically, Page 14 states: “The public debate around Prop 8 triggered 9 anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) crimes. 5 of these crimes were acts of vandalism in which opponents of Prop 8 had their property targeted by homophobic (and in 1 case, anti-black) graffiti. In addition, there were 4 violent crimes.”

  48. I seriously doubt data regarding hate crimes. Interest groups use “hate” crimes as fodder for increased funding and attention for their particular causes and communities putting in my view the collection of data on these types of crimes in doubt.

    I do not doubt that bias motivated attacks occur I just do not trust the data. In addiion more liberal jurisdictions tend to more easily define hate crimes and more conservative jurisdictions tend to downplay them due to political biases.

    On top of this there are lots of hoaxes. Esp on college campuses

  49. Wasn’t there a Missionary shot in Virgina a couple of years ago? Was that classified as a hate crime?

  50. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 48
    Yeah, I agree with that. The numbers are suspect. But does that mean we deny the problem exists and do nothing?

  51. The problem still remains though that for hate type crimes, the most prominent victims are black. We Mormons like to think we get the persecution from everybody but it’s nothing like having different colored skin.
    I have one current student who is black and tonight was the fall concert. While walking up through the concert hall, I noticed an entire family with this same student’s eyes and a girl with the same corn row design. I stopped and introduced myself saying “hey, you must be the …….s”.
    My student tells me that she lives down in Genesee (south east Seattle) and this is a pretty chi chi school. She’s on a special scholarship and is a freshman to boot. The family seemed a little uncomfortable as the other families of color are TV personalities and sports stars, if you catch my drift.
    I just hope that in my continuing conversation with them that they felt more and more comfortable about where they are sending their daughter.
    Anyway, to those who think we are still fighting the polygamy wars or that some militia is coming up I-15 to settle a score: get over yourselves. We ain’t got nothin’ compared to the stain of slavery.
    To paraphrase the very insightful words of perhaps the most poorly chosen Secretary of State, Condelezza Rice: “this country has a birth defect when it comes to race”

  52. Note that until the recent federal hate-crime legislation was enacted, the FBI was not permitted to collect data about trans people.

    5 gays were murdered for being gay – but 19 trans people were murdered for being trans. No christians of any denomination, mormons included, were murdered for their religious belief.

  53. Mike,

    That is not my argument.

    I am questioning the data.

    Also if you check the links above and look at the report (and if you believe it. A big stretch gee I wonder what political leanings the LA County Commisson on Human rights members have. How do they get their funding anyway? Reporting that hate crimes are up?) most of the racial violence in LA County is Black/Hispanic gang violence on each other. Not random look there is a (insert whomever here) lets kick his A#$@

  54. bbell,

    Are you sure it’s the data you’re questioning? You gang violence comment suggests that you oppose the concept of a “hate crime” itself.

    Perhaps the kernel of what’s bothering you is the inherent duplicity of the definition. A hate crime is a legal fiction created for an extralegal need, and it bothers you that the “extralegal” part is not Constitutional. It seems the Justices have not agreed with you.

    Specifically, a hate crime is two crimes: one against a person (your run-of-the-mill legal crime), the other against a protected class (for which the victim stands in as proxy). The foundational problem is that criminal law does not represent an unincorporated group of people as a legal entity. At best we have class-action lawsuits, that are really a form of binding arbitration (i.e. civil, NOT criminal law!) It prop up the legality of “life and limb” only with trial by jury, the sentence is pronounced on the first individual crime, with “extenuation circumstances” (but of a separate crime!) Constitutionalists cringe, but we have tolerated this well-intentioned sleight-of-hand fairly well.

    The standing of a subset of Americans to be treated as a single entity in court was unprecedented, and sits on ground no more sturdy than Roe v. Wade, yet our Constitution has evolved to embrace it. Attempts to readdress the issue now seem quixotic.

    And I think that is perhaps what is really chapping your A#$@: one group really is favored over another.

  55. Hate crimes? Of course I hate crimes!

  56. That’s not enough, Ben. You have to hate criminals, too.

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