FBI: Religious Hate Crimes Down in 2007

Hate crimes motivated by religious bias decreased overall in 2007 but still accounted for roughly 18 percent of total hate crimes, according to new statistics from the FBI.

In its 2007 Hate Crime Statistics report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation documented 1,477 offenses that were directed against a person's religion, down from 1,597 offenses in 2006.

More than a third of all hate crimes in 2007 were categorized as vandalism or property destruction.

Of all religious hate crimes in 2007, hate crimes directed at Catholics constituted 4 percent, down from 5 percent in 2006. The report also showed religiously based hate crime statistics for Protestants (4 percent), other religions (9.5 percent), followers of multiple religions (4.3 percent), and Atheists/Agnostics (0.4 percent).

Hate crimes against Jews were up with Jews accounting for 68.4 percent of religiously based hate crimes in 2007, more than four points higher than the 64.3 in 2006.

Hate crimes for Muslims, meanwhile, declined. Muslims accounted for 9 percent of all hate crimes motivated by religious bias in 2007, down from 12 to percent the previous year.

Of the hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 18 percent occurred in churches, synagogues, or temples; 26 percent in or near residences or homes; and 12 percent occurred in schools or colleges, according to the FBI report.

The report also found crimes against gays increased slightly from 1,415 offenses in 2006 to 1,460 offenses in 2007.

Though the FBI defines a "hate crime" – also known as a bias crime – as "a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin," under current federal law, hate crimes apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national original.

The Senate is currently reviewing legislation that would add gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to the hate crimes law.

Pastors and religious leaders have strongly denounced the legislation, H.R. 1592, saying the expanded hate-crime laws would infringe on their freedom of speech and incriminate them for expressing their biblical views on moral issues such as homosexuality.

A Gallup poll following the House's vote on the bill, however, found that a majority of Americans, including Protestants, supported the expansion of the hate crimes bill to include offenses against people because of their gender or sexual orientation. The poll also showed 65 percent of Protestant and other non-Catholic Christians said they would favor the move.

The White House, which argues that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable, has threatened a veto.

Critics of the bill worry what a new Administration might bring as Sen. Barack Obama, who was elected the nation's first black president Tuesday night, has indicated his support for the bill.