Mark Twain once wrote that man will “love his neighbor as himself, and cut his throat if his theology isn’t straight” (2). Some would like to think that America is now free of that religious terrorism that Twain speaks of. After all, religious violence in America is a rare thing to see, right? Wrong. Religious terrorism has many forms, murder being only one vehicle of many. In order to truly reach religious liberty, we must acknowledge that America still needs intervention despite the progress that the country has already made
Religious hate crimes still exist. In 2014, there were 1,140 unique hate crimes reported in regards to religious aggression (FBI, Table 1, 2014). The following year the numbers bumped to another 1,402 cases of religious hate crimes (FBI, Table 1, 2015). The majority of these offenses were conducted by known and repeat offenders. That is over 2,500 victims in just two years. By those calculations, nearly every day three people are dealing with religious hate attacks, in the so called “land of the free.” Along with this, the data does not reflect ongoing or repeat hate crimes involving the same people, or those that never reported incidents at all. It is possible that the numbers are much higher than those that were recorded.
A research study in the American Journal of Criminal Justice (AJCJ) found that 41.3% of victims do not report hate crimes (1). Of this percentage AJCJ discovered that 9.4% indicated that they did not report out of fear of retaliation (Table 4, 15). Another, 43% admitted that the reason they did not, is because they had lack of faith in the justice system stating that they did not believe the police “would or could do anything about it”(Table 4, 15). This might be true considering only 22% of hate crimes end in arrest (1). Victims involved in similar attacks previously, were 49% less likely to report again (11). Digging deeper, it is clear that hate crimes are handled differently depending on which religions were attacked and how many people were involved. Anti-Christian hate crimes end in arrest nearly half the time, while Islamic hate crimes end in arrest only 10 percent of the time (AJCJ 15). In comparison to Jewish hate crimes, anti-Christian attacks were 78% more likely to end in arrest and 45% more likely in other religions (15). When multiple witnesses and victims were involved the chances of arrest increased by 69% (15).
Congressman, Andre Carson, shares his personal testimony on the matter. He received death threats as a result becoming the first ever Muslim on the house intelligence committee. He reveals the “threat was just one of dozens he’s received since he joined Congress in 2008” (Chokshi, Para 6). He also notes that, “It’s largely in part to this toxic environment (Chokshi, Para 1).”
Religious Tolerance is Not Enough
While Americans are encouraged to practice religious tolerance, the wrong message is being enforced. As Clinton stated “during the foundry at Methodist church… ‘Tolerance implies that someone who is better than someone else is decent enough to put up with them’ (qtd. In Bishop 3). That person chooses to be decent towards other religions, but is not required to. Individuals can decide one day to put up with other religions, and then the next day blow up a sacred building or terrorize religious groups. The original message has always been religious tolerance, not religious acceptance or liberty.
Religious freedom is not attainable with the low standards of “tolerance” regulating America. Reaching religious peace is a process. The first step is religious tolerance. The U.S. has already met the time when most citizens can refrain from slaughtering the next person based on religious beliefs, and tolerate them (even if that means with vulgar words and disapproving faces). Now America must move forward and reach towards religious liberty.
Religious liberty involves people being able to practice their religion publicly and freely, not only by governmental law but social law as well. While every religion is legal, not all are welcomed in America the same way. Many do not feel safe with claiming their religion or practicing it publicly. As bishop criticizes, “they may worship in their homes, but they cannot gather in public” (4). Religious freedom has not been achieved when citizens are still fearful and threatened for what they believe in. Religious terrorism does not have to present itself in the form of murder or physical harm to terrorize someone. Religious bashing can be verbal, gestural or involve physical harm. These all play a part in the emotional trauma.
Those who are in opposition to enhancing standards of religious interaction claim that by doing so America would be hindering freedom of expression. If an individual is limited in their rights to voice an opinion, either negatively or positively, then that is a breach of their basic human rights. Most people are critical of religions that they do not follow, because they believe their religious path is the right one. It is not illegal to feel this way nor is it a crime to express these ideas. While criticizing opposing religions may not be the most moral of actions, it is indeed covered by constitutional law. Along with this, the freedom of religion does not imply that people must respect one another’s religion. Temperman notes that it is important to “scrutinize whether [legal Justifications] are sustainable from a human rights perspective—not only on paper, but also in actual practice” (29). Creating a law that protects religious feelings will not aid the country in moving towards religious liberty because it will be intruding upon basic human rights thus generating more chaos. As concluded by Temperman, when implementing a policy like this “there is virtually always a clash of rights… whenever someone expresses something remotely critical of religion” (5). However, it is an entirely different situation when these feelings are taken beyond criticisms and birthed into hate crimes or behavior. Decreasing friction between religious groups, educating citizens and encouraging religious acceptance does not impede on any constitutional right—it simply encourages healthy interaction among groups.
Many suggest that America has grown tremendously and already reached religious freedom considering every religious group is allowed to practice their own religion legally and exercise the same governmental rights. America has come a long way from the days pagans were hung and non-puritans were stoned. Now People can pray to whichever god they like or even none at all. The question is: can they all do it publicly with social acceptance and without fear? Could they all do it in the same room successfully? Probably, not. Citizens can be any religion and vote. But, how many of those religions are represented as government officials rather than just voters? Healthy balance is lacking as well as social acceptance and partnership among religious groups. These criticisms are not meant to take away from the growth of this country but to encourage the continual progress in the proper direction. America is the melting pot of the world and home to many religions. This country was founded on the very notion of freedom. To reject that minimal right to even one person on American soil is hypocritical and immoral.
America has the capability to overcome these religious hate crimes and minimize them further through seeking religious liberty and social acceptance for all belief systems. The U.S. should not stop at 1,400 victims and decide that we have arrived at religious freedom. Perhaps we have finally reached religious tolerance, but now we must begin the journey to religious liberty as a country. We must unlearn these hateful ideologies and encourage judgement free ones in the youthful generations to come. We must crack down on hate crimes and prevent prior offenders from choosing new victims. America must do more than simply settle for “religious tolerance.”
“Hate Crime Statistics: Victims.” Federal Bureau of Investigation: FBI. 2014. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2014/topic-pages/victims_final This report shares the details of hate crimes during the year 2014. The document includes various tables breaking down the victims as far as race, religion, ethnicity and other aspects as well. The tables include information on the sort of hate crimes committed and how many involved previous offenders. This information proves useful because it is unbiased and a federal documented report.
“2015 Hate Crime Statistics: Victims.” Federal Bureau of Investigation: FBI. 2015. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2015/topic-pages/victims_final This report is similar to the 2014 Hate Crimes Statistics Report, only it is based on information regarding the year 2015. All of the same information is provided and exactly in the same fashion.
Chokshi, Niraj. “Muslim Congressman Blames Death Threat in Part on Toxic Environment.” Washington Post. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/12/09/muslim-congressman-blames-death-threat-in-part-on-toxic-environment/?utm_term=.98c56645f254 This News report expresses the personal testimony and perspective of a Muslim Congressman. He shares his views on the origin of the death threats that he has received throughout his career and he shares how it has affected him and his family. This resource is useful in the sense that it gives insight to a personal experience involving hate crime.
Bishop, Donald M. “Religious Liberty, Not Religious Tolerance.” American Diplomacy. 2015. pp. 1-5 ProQuest Central, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/docview/1691580359?accountid=8289. This peer reviewed article expressed the strong need to abandon the concept religious tolerance and replace it with religious liberty. He support his argument with specific definitions regarding the meaning of Tolerance, Toleration and Religious Liberty.
Temperman, J. “Freedom of expression and religious sensitivities in pluralist societies: Facing the challenge of extreme speech.” Brigham Young University Law Review. 2011. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/docview/900864390?accountid=8289 This peer reviewed article highlights the continuing battle between “religious sensitivities” and freedom of expression. He outlines the ways in which these two very serious matters can easily cross boundaries. He argues that it is not constitutionally unacceptable to allow religious feelings and offenses to come before freedom of expression, a basic human right.
Walfield, S. M., Socia, K. M., & Powers, R. Religious motivated hate crimes: Reporting to law enforcement and case outcomes. American Journal of Criminal Justice: AJCJ. 2017. doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1007/s12103-016-9349-3 This peer reviewed case study investigates the interaction between law enforcement and hate crimes. AJCJ focuses the study around detailed information regarding victims and their inclination to report incidents to officers. It also compares and contrasts situations among differing religions and judicial outcomes. This report is successful in providing reliable and objective facts regarding hate crimes.
Waldron, J. “Dignity and Defamation: The Visibility of Hate.” Harvard Law Review, 123(7), 1597-1657. 2010. Peer reviewed article focuses its attention on the concept of “hate speech” and the lawful status that it holds. The essay address the reasons why it could be implemented into policies in order to protect specific groups. He also explains why this is not an existing policy and the constitutional barriers that it holds.