December Holiday Guidelines

The Faith-Based Initiative

Intelligent Design

Religious Accommodation
in the Workplace

School Vouchers

The Ten Commandments Controversy

Religion in the
Public Schools

Federal Laws Against Religious Discrimination and Violence

The Right to Build a Religious Facility

Federal Laws Against Anti-Religious Discrimination and Violence :
Key Federal Statutes Prohibiting Religious Discrimination and Anti-Religious Violence
Religion In America’s Public Square: Crossing the Line?
by Abraham H. Foxman

Criminal Statutes

18 U.S.C. § 241 makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree together 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/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).

18 U.S.C. § 245 makes it unlawful to willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with any person, or to attempt to do so, by force or threat of force, because of that other person's race, color, religion or national origin and because of his/her activity as one of the following:

  • A student at or applicant for admission to a public school or public college
  • A participant in a benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity provided or administered by a state or local government
  • An applicant for private or state employment; a private or state employee; a member or applicant for membership in a labor organization or hiring hall; or an applicant for employment through an employment agency, labor organization or hiring hall
  • A juror or prospective juror in state court
  • A traveler or user of a facility of interstate commerce or common carrier
  • A patron of a public accommodation or place of exhibition or entertainment, including hotels, motels, restaurants, lunchrooms, bars, gas stations, theaters, concert halls, sports arenas or stadiums.

18 U.S.C. § 247, The Church Arson Prevention Act, makes it 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.

18 U.S.C. § 248, makes it a crime to, "by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injure[ ], intimidate[ ] or interfere[ ] with or attempt[ ] to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship" or to "intentionally damage[ ] or destroy[ ] the property of a place of religious worship."

18 U.S.C. § 249, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 makes it a crime to willfully cause bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when (1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person or (2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce. 

42 U.S.C. § 3631 makes it unlawful for an individual to use force or threaten to use force to injure, intimidate, or interfere with, or attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with, any person's housing rights because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.

Non-Criminal Statutes

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants and motels on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination in public facilities, which are publicly owned and operated facilities open to the public, such as parks and community centers. Title III authorizes the Attorney General to bring suit when a person has been denied equal access to public facilities on account of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion in public primary and secondary schools, as well as public colleges and universities.

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permits the Attorney General to intervene in any action in federal court, involving any subject matter, "seeking relief from the denial of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution on account of race, color, religion, sex or national origin," if such intervention is timely made and the Attorney General certifies that the case is of "general public importance."

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public and private employment. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodation of employees' religious observances and practices, unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship.

42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., the Fair Housing Act, prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status. These housing protections apply to discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and also apply to the "terms and conditions" of the sale or rental of housing.

15 U.S.C. 1691, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, prohibits discrimination against persons seeking home mortgages or other credit based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age, or because an applicant receives income from a public assistance program.

42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq, The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) prohibits zoning and historic landmark laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions unless implementation of such laws is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. RLUIPA also provides that if a regulation imposes a substantial burden on the religious beliefs or practices of persons confined to certain institutions, the government must show a compelling justification, pursued through the least restrictive means.

42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) "prohibits 'government' from 'substantially burdening' a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless the government can demonstrate the burden '(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.'"  RFRA only applies to the Federal Government and federal territories and possessions.

Constitutional Provisions

The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provide: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  The first of the two Clauses, commonly called the Establishment Clause, commands a separation of church and state.  The second, the Free Exercise Clause, requires government respect for, and noninterference with, the religious beliefs and practices of our Nation's people. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 719 (2005)

The Constitution provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any   Office or public Trust under the United States." Art. VI, cl. 3.


Enacted in 1990, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA)  requires the Justice Department to acquire data on crimes which "manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity" from law enforcement agencies across the country and to publish an annual summary of the findings. In the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress expanded coverage of the HCSA to require FBI reporting on crimes based on "disability."  Under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Attorney General is also required to collect data on crimes committed because of gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles.





© 2010 Anti-Defamation League;
Compiled from USDOJ sources. 

Home | Search | About ADL | Donate | Contact ADL | Privacy Policy |
| Update Your E-mail Preferences |

Help support our work by sending your tax deductible gift to:
ADL, 605 Third Ave., New York, NY 10158, Attn: Development.

To speak to an ADL professional about giving opportunities
Please call 866-FUND-ADL or 866-386-3235
We thank you for your support

© 2013 Anti-Defamation League. All rights reserved. The Anti-Defamation League is a not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).