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New Legislation Tracking Religious Hate Crimes

A Deseret News article from August 5, 2013, reports that the U.S. Justice Department will begin tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Buddhists, Hindus, Arabs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Orthodox Christians in the wake of a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August of 2012[1].

Insist on our constitutional right exercise our beliefs and to voice our consciences on issues in the public square and in the halls of justice - Dallin H. OaksU.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a blog post on August 2 announcing the new policy. He said, “Having accurate information allows law enforcement leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources and priorities—decisions that impact real people, and affect public safety in every neighborhood and community. Today, I am proud to report that we have taken steps to collect this information.”

Members of the Sikh community have wanted Sikhs added to the list of groups against whom the Justice Department tracks hate crimes. However, as Amardeep Singh, program director of the Sikh Coalition, said, “It will take more than tracking hate crime statistics to stem the tide” of violence against Sikhs.

Hate Crimes Often Stem From Ignorance

In August of 2012, Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in the Milwaukee area and began shooting, killing six priests and worshippers and wounding five others before taking his own life. The shooting is only one incident in a string of violence against Sikhs since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. Since September 11, Holder reported that the Justice Department “has investigated more than 800 incidents . . . targeting Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians, and those perceived to be members of these groups”[1].

The Justice Department’s announcement that it will record statistics of hate crimes against Sikhs, Mormons, and other religious groups is but one step towards greater religious freedom and equality in a country where no one should be afraid to practice his or her beliefs.

One of the biggest enemies is ignorance. When people misunderstand a religion and judge an entire population by the behavior of a small percentage of radicals, it becomes easier to target anyone belonging to that group, or even seeming to belong to that group. As a society, we need to make fewer snap judgments and to be more accepting of other people’s beliefs.

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