Standing For Religious Freedom Means Standing Against Hate

Yesterday I attended a panel hosted by the Arab American Institute entitled “Combatting the Trend of Hate: A Discussion on Recent Hate Incidents.”

Represented on the panel were organizations that are working tirelessly to address the rise in hate incidents in the United States, including Muslim Advocates, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Sikh Coalition.

As an organizer with Americans United, I think a lot about how hate crimes and hate speech are deeply impactful for those who subscribe to minority religions in the United States.

Although Americans United does not expressly work on hate crime issues, we do fight to ensure that people are able to practice their religion – or abstain from religious practice – free from government interference so long as it does not harm others.

Hate incidents prohibit the ability of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and practitioners of other minority religions to freely exercise their religious beliefs. 

Pamphlet from yesterday's event. 

Unfortunately, the majority of hate crimes go unreported. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, if hate crimes were accurately reported, there would be close to 250,000 a year.

There are many reasons for the underreporting of hate crimes. For one, local police are not required to record them. There are no consequences for law enforcement agencies that refuse to submit information about the number of incidents that occur in the communities they serve. Last year, 88 percent of police departments reported no hate crimes or abstained from submitting their paperwork.

Another barrier to collecting accurate statistics of hate crime incidents is the paucity of robust hate crime statutes in the states. There are still some states that do not have their own hate crime statutes, and 2015 was the first year that statistics were reported on hate crimes committed against Hindus and Sikhs.

There are many reasons to expect there to be a spike in hate crimes the week leading up to Inauguration Day, so let’s ready ourselves to fight for church-state separation and religious freedom (just as Americans United has done for 70 years), keeping in mind that this includes standing up to hate crimes and hate speech targeted at minority religions in your community. (Certain types of hate speech may, in fact, be protected speech, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticized.)

Consider reaching out in support of mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship in your communities that have been the target of hate crimes and hate speech. Remain vigilant, and be ready to speak out against hate when you see it and join us. We will never stop fighting.