The Most Common Myths about Hate Crimes Laws

Across the country, legislators are making attempts to pass state hate crime statutes that would include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity. In a January op-ed for the Washington Post, Judy and Dennis Shepard stated that there “simply shouldn’t be political controversy about acknowledging that violence is happening against certain people,” and that hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are the most common second only to racial bias. Yet, these state-level laws continue to face dangerous opposition based in fear and misinformation. Here are some of the most common myths used to argue against hate crime laws, and the truth you can use to debunk them.

Myth: “Hate Crimes law are infringements on my right to free speech”

Truth: Hate crimes laws target criminal actions, not thoughts or speech. Speech, including that labeled as hateful or offensive, is almost always protected by the First Amendment.

Myth: “Subjective political correctness shouldn’t determine legislation”

Truth: Hate crimes laws correctly identify those who are victims to hate crimes and support accurate reporting of this crime data to local, state and federal governing bodies. They do not govern individual thought, ideology, religious belief or similar concepts with lawful consequence.

Myth: “All crimes are Hate Crimes”

Truth: Motivation is key; crimes motivated by hate for a community, whether bias toward a certain race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other quality, are considered hate crimes. They are designed to target one member or group in order to terrorize an entire community and strip it of its right to safety.

Myth: “It will be a crime to express our religious beliefs—a constitutional right”

Truth: The First Amendment guarantees the right to express religious beliefs, be it from a pulpit or a street corner. Again, hate crimes laws do not target speech or thought—any law that restricts these rights would be unconstitutional.

Myth: “A federal hate crimes law already exists, so a state statute is redundant”

Truth: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, like most federal laws, has many limitations when being applied at the state level. By each state passing its own hate crimes statute, state prosecutors are empowered to carry out prosecutions without involving the federal government, and there are far more prosecutions in states with these laws than those who rely on federal hate crimes law.

Myth: “These laws are giving special protections to the LGBTQ+ community”

Truth: Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity; expanding hate crimes laws to include language for sexual orientation and gender identity is not providing special protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

Matthew Shepard FoundationThe Most Common Myths about Hate Crimes Laws