To the Editor:
Contrary to Noah Feldman's assertion, a successful hate crime prosecution of members of one Amish sect who targeted another sect would not constitute "a defeat for religious and civil liberty" ("Is Cutting Off a Beard a Hate Crime?," Sept. 9). This case is not about anyone's religious liberty; nor does it constitute "a potentially harmful extension of the original hate-crimes law." It is about targeting someone because of his religion or religious practices.
Intra-religious hate crimes prosecutions are very rare; religion- based hate crimes usually involve targeted violence or vandalism by members of one religious group against members of another. But there is nothing in the language of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) that limits its reach to just those acts of violence.
Furthermore, Feldman's concerns about over prosecution of intra-religious hate crimes is misplaced. The vast majority of hate crimes prosecutions are carried out by state and local officials, who have always had authority to prosecute intra-religious hate crimes under their statutes – and have almost never done so. In addition, since the enactment of the HCPA in October, 2009, the Justice Department has brought about a dozen cases under the Act – only one of which involves intra-religious violence. According to the FBI, over 6.600 hate crimes – over 1,300 on the basis of religion – were reported in 2010 alone. There is no reason to draw a conclusion from this unique case that the Justice Department is now going to depart from its decades-long record of restraint and deference to local officials in prosecuting hate crimes.
We cannot outlaw hate – but laws shape attitudes. And attitudes influence behavior. Targeting a person for a violent crime because of his or her religion or religious practice – regardless of whether the perpetrator is of the same religion – should be considered a hate crime.
The Anti-Defamation League