There were over 7,000 incidents of hate crimes reported last year with a large majority having been against race, according to a new report released Monday by the FBI.
Following race, crimes with bias against religion and sexual orientation were the most common. In total, there were 9,691 victims of hate crimes accounted for in 2008 – 4,943 singled out because of their race, 1, 732 because of their religion and 1,706 because of their sexual orientation.
Out of the religion-motivated hate crimes, 65.7 percent were anti-Jewish, 7.7 were anti-Islamic, 4.7 were anti-Catholic, and 3.7 were anti-Protestant. A little less than one percent, meanwhile, were anti-Atheism/Agnostic/etc.
In response to the new report, Robert G. Sugarman, National Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued a statement claiming that hate violence in America is a "serious national problem that shows little sign of slowing."
"It is disturbing that in 2008, as our country elected its first African-American President, the FBI report tallied 7,783 bias-motivated incidents – the highest total since 2001, including the highest number of crimes directed at Blacks, Jews, and gay men and lesbians since 2001," they added.
While ADL noted that the increase in the number of hate crimes may be partially attributed to improved reporting, it still said the fact that these numbers remain elevated – particularly the significant rise in the number of victims selected on the basis of religion or sexual orientation – should be of concern to every American.
"With data comes awareness and accountability – which must lead to action," ADL leaders stated. "Too frequently we have seen that failure to address bias crimes can cause an isolated incident to fester and result in widespread community tensions."
Last month, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act – the first expansion of federal civil rights laws since the mid-1990s. The new law criminalizes violence or attempted violence against victims because of their race, color, religion, or national origin, and also adds four new categories to that list of biases - actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The law has been called a clear threat to religious liberty by conservatives, who fear the legislation will subject clergy, religious broadcasters and conservative groups to prosecution for preaching what they believe the Bible says – that homosexual behavior is sin.
Last week, a group of conservative pastors delivered a five-page letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing their concerns over the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The group pointed to cases in Canada and the United Kingdom where Christians have already been feeling the negative effects of similar hate crimes legislation.