The US Department of Justice estimates that in each year between 2004 and 2015, 250,000 hate crimes occurred in the US. But what is a hate crime?
As you know, the First Amendment protects your right to free speech. This includes your right to hold whatever beliefs you want to, to express those beliefs verbally and in writing, and to join groups that share such beliefs. It does not, however, protect your right to commit a crime in the name of your beliefs.
As used by the Justice Department when investigating and prosecuting a hate crime, the word “hate,” means bias against a certain group of people based on such things as the following:
- Race or color
- National origin or ethnicity
- Gender or gender identity
- Sexual orientation
Notice that hate itself, i.e., intense or passionate dislike for someone or something, forms no part of this definition. These feelings are part of what the First Amendment protects. Consequently, you can feel hate for someone, but you cannot illegally act on that feeling.
The word “crime” means a deliberate illegal act, such as one of the following:
It also includes threats to commit such an act of conspiring with someone else to commit such an act, whether or not you or they actually carry out the crime.
In addition to federal laws against hate crimes, most states have their own corresponding laws. Therefore, if alleged to have committed a hate crime, you could face state or federal charges, or possibly even both. Virtually all hate crimes are felonies. If convicted, you could face substantial prison time, up to and including life.