In November 2018, the FBI released a report stating hate crimes were on the rise. Hate crimes overall increased by 17 percent; religion-based hate crimes increased 23 percent. More than 7,000 incidents were reported the previous year. The Anti-Defamation League showed a 57 percent spike in crimes targeting Jewish Americans – the largest single year increase on record and the second highest total reported since the ADL began keeping track in 1979.
The rise in hate crime corresponded with an increase in extremist movements reportedly embolden by anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric in the press and elsewhere. Religions which have been targeted include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists and others. The consequences have ranged from acts of vulgar vandalism, to personal violence against individuals, to mass murder.
Incidents of violence do not happen by accident. They occur because a climate has been set that encourages violence and hate against others. Arnie Lerma was an example of someone whose extremist views inflamed others.
The unhinged ranting of individuals who use the internet as a platform can spread hatred virally and when hate speech begins to resonate with others equally irrational, it is a short step to tragedy.
Religion is fundamental to life and one of America’s founding principles is the freedom of religion. No one should be afraid to practice their faith, in whatever form they chose to do so.
That begins by learning the difference between hate speech and free speech, and refusing to allow haters to go unchallenged.