Expanded Hate Crimes Definition: What is Covered?

By Caleb Groos on October 09, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

As reported by the New York Times, the House attached the expansion of hate crime protections to a military expenditures bill. In the Senate, support for hate crimes legislation and the unwillingness of opponents to vote against authorizing the military expenditures appear likely to ensure passage of the expanded protections.

This time, expanded hate crimes provisions will not face a Presidential veto (unless President Obama's opposition to the military portions of the legislation proves too much). In 2007, a similar strategy was used -- attaching the House and Senate supported hate crimes legislation as an amendment to a defense reauthorization bill. After then-President Bush threatened to veto the whole bill, the hate crimes amendment was dropped.

So, what exactly are the existing federal hate crimes protections? And what would change by expanding them to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability?

Current federal hate crimes provisions punish those who by force or threat of force willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with any person (or attempt to do so) because of the person's race, color, religion or national origin, and because that person is engaging in a number of activities, including:

  • enrolling in or attending any public school or college;
  • participating in any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity provided or administered by any state or state subdivision;
  • applying for employment by any private employer or any agency of any state, or joining any labor organization, hiring hall, or employment agency;
  • serving on or attending any state court in connection with possible jury service;
  • traveling or using any facility of interstate commerce, or using any vehicle, terminal, or facility of any common carrier by motor, rail, water, or air; and
  • enjoying the accommodations or services of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, theater, concert hall, stadium, or any other place of exhibition or entertainment which serves the public.

Violation of this law may bring (in addition to any state charges), federal fine or imprisonment up to one year. If the crime involves a dangerous weapon or results in bodily harm, the penalty can be up to 10 years in prison. If the crime includes kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, an attempt to kill, or if the crime results in death, the federal punishment can include the death penalty.

If the bills moving through the House and Senate run their course, crimes targeting anyone based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, and the fact that they are participating in the above describes activities, would be eligible for the same punishment.

In addition to bolstering federal punishments, the pending hate crimes legislation would allow the Department of Justice to aid in hate crime investigations and prosecutions if requested by local authorities, and set aside money ($5 million) to help local communities investigate hate crimes.

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