According to the FBI, hate crimes went down by 15 over the course of the year 2009. The FBI claims that there were 6,604 criminal acts which had 7,784 “bias motivated offenses.” Almost 20 percent of the crimes were religiously motivated criminal acts. Of the 1303 criminal acts of religious bigotry 931 were anti-Jewish,107 were anti-Islamic, 51 were anti-catholic, 38 were anti-protestant and 10 were anti-Atheistic /Agnostic. Finally in 2008 there were 1608 religiously motivated hate crimes.
What does all this mean? Well, one could say that hate crimes are going down and pray they continue in this pattern. Another aspect is the amount of anti-Semitic attacks which make up the largest category of religious hate crimes. Jews should feel at home in America and breathe easy that we have the most secure way of life that any Jewish community has probably ever experienced in the history of our people. Yet, that stream of anti-Semitism still exists and will always pose a risk factor to our well being. It just comes with the territory and the job.
It is hard to tell whether the numbers will increase regarding anti-Islamic hate crimes. We all know the tension out there in America regarding the Muslim population. My sense is that the statistics will not change much unless we have a terrorist attack (Please God, no!).
The Anti-Defamation League came out with a statement welcoming the decrease of hate crimes but also pointed out that 60 cities with populations over 100,000 did not participate in the survey. That is an obvious problem which makes the report appear to be skewed. We need accurate data before we can make pronouncements about the state of hate crimes in America. This fact calls into question the reliability of the FBI’s statistics.
This is the time for religious groups to build bridges with and to each other. When we do so we are protecting our communities from misunderstanding if and when an incident occurs which can trigger other crimes. Community leaders have an obligation to talk to each other even if there are issues which we share opposing opinions. We all live in the same community and should have a vested interest in preserving the peace.
We are a great nation for many reasons. We have the ability to make a difference and show the world how America can deal with its religious diversity in a way that does not tear at the fabric of our society. Sure we have profoundly difficult issues to deal with that relate to race and religion. But we do have the capacity to transcend divisive issues and work for a better understanding amongst religions. The volunteer boards of Mosques, churches, synagogues and other religious institutions should encourage their clergy to make those connections and show pride when clergy succeed at fostering a greater understanding between the religions.
I pray that this Thanksgiving we take a moment out to say that we are blessed in so many ways because we live in America. Yes, we are going through a terrible time in our economy. At the same time let us rededicate ourselves to the hope that we shall never cede the moral high ground. Please God, imbue us with the determination to live up to the teachings of our faith and cherish all life and the religions that give us understanding and faith to live our lives to its fullest potential.