The U.S. has seen a 23 percent increase in religious hate crimes from 2014 to 2015, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reported that crimes against Jews were the most common and crimes against Muslims were the fastest growing.

Violence against someone based on their religion is classified as a hate crime in U.S. law, explained Eric Treene, special counsel for religious discrimination in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division – one of five individuals testifying before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on May 2, 2017.

Such crimes “are designed by their perpetrators to intimidate and terrorize communities and groups of people,” he continued, and are “motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or other characteristic of the victim.”

Treene noted that there has been “a 23 percent rise in religion-based hate crimes from 2014 to 2015, including a 67 percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and a 9 percent rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes.”

“All Americans have a stake in effective response to violent bigotry,” stressed Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “Failure to address this unique type of crime often causes an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension.”

Greenblatt cited ADL audits that found a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents, with a more than 33 percent increase in 2016 and “an 86 percent increase in the first quarter of 2017 over 2016 incidents.”

He also reported a 67 percent increase between 2014 and 2015 in anti-Muslim incidents.

“The number of reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015 was, in fact, the second most reported against Muslims ever – second only to the series of backlash crimes in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist incidents,” Greenblatt said.

Vanita Gupta, incoming president and CEO of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, stated that the annual hate crime statistics “almost certainly understate the true numbers of hate crimes committed.”

The reason, she explained, is that “victims may be fearful of authorities and thus may not report these crimes. Or local authorities do not accurately characterize these violent incidents as hate crimes and thus fail to report them to the federal government.”

“We know that acts of hate not only devastate individuals but can also target entire communities, undermining the most basic tenets of our democracy,” Gupta said. “As such, every sector of society has an important role to play in helping to ensure that no person is targeted for violence based on his or her personal characteristics. We must speak out against hate and bigotry when we see it and document incidents of hate whenever they arise.”

A video recording of the Senate hearing and PDF testimony transcripts are available here.

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