The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
By Michael Lieberman
This month we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), the most important, comprehensive, and inclusive federal hate crime enforcement law passed in the past 40 years. The Anti-Defamation League and the Religious Action Center played critical roles helping to lead the very broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, professional, law enforcement, and civic organizations that advocated for the HCPA for more than a dozen years.
Though some opponents raised federalism and First Amendment concerns, the most persistent, fierce efforts to block passage of the measure came from religious conservatives and their allies on the Hill and in the Bush Administration who ominously warned that enactment of the bill would advance gay rights. That allegation ignored the fact that any member of LGBT communities who would be “benefiting” from the bill would, by necessity, be dead or beaten and bloody. Among the false claims opponents repeatedly asserted over the years was that enactment of the bill would inhibit clergy from preaching the Gospels and the Bible.
For many years, RAC led the coalition’s efforts to counter these false claims, coordinating statements of support from a wide array of interfaith voices. These voices, along with support from every major law enforcement organization in the country and vocal support from President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. were essential to achieving final passage of the measure.
Now, five years later, advocates can be certain that our coalition lobbying efforts and the sustained efforts by our congressional champions, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy, were worthwhile.
Much work remains to be done. Hate crimes remain a serious national problem. In 2012 (according to the most recent data available) the FBI documented more than 6,500 hate crimes – almost one every hour of every day. The most frequent were motivated by race, followed by religion and sexual orientation. Of the crimes motivated by religion, more than 60 percent targeted Jews or Jewish institutions.
The fifth anniversary of the HCPA provides an important teachable moment. It is a fitting occasion for advocates, the Obama Administration, and Congress to promote awareness of the HCPA, to report on the progress our nation has made in preventing hate violence, and to rededicate ourselves to effectively responding to bias crimes when they occur.
Michael Lieberman is the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington Counsel and Director of the League’s Civil Rights Policy Planning Center. He chaired the broad coalition of groups that worked for 13 years to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA).