Expanded Hate-Crimes Bill Wins Senate Approval, Heads to Conference Committee
By Nathan Guttman Published July 22, 2009, issue of July 31, 2009.
Washington - Twelve years of activism by Jewish groups is nearing an end as Congress prepares to approve legislation that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include actions based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Jewish groups have been front and center in lobbying for the inclusion of these categories in the existing law, which already defines as hate crimes those that are committed on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act is named after the gay student who was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because of his sexual orientation. Shepard’s murderers received life sentences, but the case was not prosecuted as a hate crime.
Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, who worked on the expanded hate crimes bill for more than a decade, said pushing it forward was in the interests of the Jewish community because of the leading role Jews play in fighting against hate crimes and for civil liberties.
“We must be cognizant of the fact that the third most common victims of hate crimes are gays and lesbians,” Lieberman said. The most common factor in hate crimes is race, according to FBI statistics. The second most common is religion. Crimes against Jews make up 70% of the religion category, according to the FBI data.