WASHINGTON (CNN) – Attorney General Eric Holder stepped up his call for the passage of federal hate crimes legislation Thursday, arguing that the federal government needs to take a stronger stand against criminal activity fueled by bias and bigotry.
He also sought to assure opponents that such a bill would not allow Christian clergy to be prosecuted for outspoken opposition to homosexuality.
Holder made his remarks during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The bill would allow the Justice Department to provide assistance to state and local authorities in the prosecution of hate crimes, while also expanding federal protection against hate crimes to cover disability, gender, and sexual orientation.
"Hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities," Holder said.
"Perpetrators of hate crimes seek to deny the humanity that we all share, regardless of the color of our skin, the God to whom we pray, or the person who we choose to love. ... The time is now to provide justice to victims of bias-motivated violence and to re-double our efforts to protect our communities from violence based on bigotry and prejudice."
The attorney general argued that "recent numbers ... suggest that hate crimes against certain groups are on the rise, such as individuals of Hispanic national origin."
Specifically, he noted, more than 77,000 hate crime incidents were reported by the FBI between 1998 and 2007, or "nearly one hate crime for every hour of every day over the span of a decade."
In light of such statistics, he said, it was one of his "highest personal priorities ... is to do everything I can to ensure this critical legislation finally becomes law."
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee disputed Holder's assertion that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of hate crimes. They also questioned the need for federal involvement in the prosecution of violent acts - traditionally a function of state and local governments.
They pointed to FBI figures showing a slight decline from 7,755 hate crimes reported in 1998 to 7,624 in 2007, the most recently compiled statistics.
It is "important to know (if) we have a problem of significant numbers of (hate crime) cases ... not being prosecuted in state and local governments," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee.
"Murders occur all over America every day. Robberies, assaults, rapes, burglaries occur every day, and those are handled by our state and local jurisdictions. ... They do a pretty good job."
When pressed, Holder acknowledged he had no hard evidence of trends showing the problem getting worse, nor that states are not prosecuting cases based on their own state hate crimes statutes.
The attorney general insisted, however, that the issue should be viewed more broadly.
"It seems to me this is a question of conscience," Holder argued. He emphasized that the bill is designed to give special protections to groups that historically have been victims solely based on who they are.
Holder added that while state and local governments generally do a good job prosecuting violent crimes, there is nevertheless a need for the federal government to serve as a "backstop" on occasion, particularly if localities lack the resources for an effective investigation or prosecution.
"There are instances where the (federal) government needs to come in," he said.
He also asserted that any federal hate crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.
"It is the person who commits the actual act of violence, who would be subject to this legislation, not the person who is simply expressing an opinion," Holder said.
Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality.
The attorney general has been a vocal proponent of federal hate-crimes legislation since his tenure in the Clinton Justice Department. Last week, in a speech on civil rights, he cited three recent fatal shootings in calling for stricter hate crimes laws.
"The violence in Washington, Little Rock and Wichita reminds us of the potential threat posed by violent extremists and the tragedy that ensues when reasoned discourse is replaced by armed confrontation," he said.
Holder was referring to the shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, allegedly by a self-avowed white supremacist; the shooting of two U.S. soldiers in Little Rock, Arkansas, allegedly by a man prosecutors say was targeting the U.S. military for what it had done to Muslims; and the murder of a doctor who ran a women's clinic in Wichita, Kansas, allegedly by an abortion opponent.
–CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report
well of course the GOP is not pursuaded– they are the party of hate!!!
This is an effort to criminalize Whites, Christians, and heterosexuals. This laws are rarely ever applied against minorities, as though they are above prejudice and bigotry.
Thats because the GOP likes having their hate be allowed by the law. It would cause a serious problem to them if their hate behavior towards others became illegal.
Imagine if there was a real hate crimes law, almost every Democrat in America would be in jail.
Come to a blue area, you will see that Democrats hate everyone. Their total disregard for human life is the biggest hate crime, it goes well beyond just babies, Democrats and their way of acting and behaving around other people is why car insurance rates are so high in the blue and so so many people die or are surverely injured, driving while lib is and always will be the biggest killer in this nation.
The G.O.P. lives on hate. They just want someone to fight with.
Why shouldn't Christian Clergy be prosecuted? Look at that guy who descrated Matthew Shephard's grave... people shouldn't be able to put their hate into action. Hiding it under a religious tone just should not be tolerated. PERIOD.
I'm sure your testimony in front of Senate committees is invaluable Mr. Holder, but how about starting some indictments for the torture regime that just left office??
As a society we should have a conversation with such speech taking place to begin with and the fact that some religious groups are concern with this bill; which it should not be a concern for them since the bill does not consider speech but rather actual violent acts because of hate; it makes you wonder how some speech must be pretty bad to hear...like this new video of demonizing a young gay man!
I agree that hate crimes are on the rise. Even in my own family, we have the white members siding with a young meth head's lie over the accomplished young black lady. They swear she would lie, but how does a 16 year old run away survive on the streets for months as an meth addict and swears she never lied, stole or had sex, yeah right!!!
The black girl graduation cum laude and then pursed a MA with a 3.88 GPA, never been in trouble and smokes weed occassionaly. All of the white family members had forbidden the blacks to come over to the main family home. It's sad.......
Well, anyone who did not think that Holder would not go after unpopular speech, incorrect thinking, and legal gun ownership, the instant he was confirmed, was not paying attention.
I think Gitmo would make a great re-education camp for those who don't love Big Brother.
Can someone please define LOVE crime??
Crime is crime – regardless of motive. Assault and battery on an ederly woman is no worse than assaulting a gay woman, no?
Christian clergy are unfortunately some of the biggest haters. Always have been.
And at least he will be efficient-voter intimidation by black panthers in Philadelphia doesn't count, and we need not devote scarce resources there when there are hateful catholics whose views on gay marriage need to be silenced.
No surprise, more obstructionism and hypocrisy from the RepubliCONS. They claim our state and local legal system is plenty capable, but totally ineffective in the possibility of housing GITMO detainees in Supermax prisons. Who takes these jokers seriously anymore, besides the Limbaugh followers?
how interesting, the old white guy party doesn't see the need to support hate crime legislation.. republicans are SO funny, how they wrap themselves in this cloak of christianity.. they remind me of the pharisees in jesus time.. jesus said about them, "they worship me with their words, but their hearts are far from me..." and that is the fundamental principle of republican party christianity... TELL the world you're christians, because NOTHING in your behavior would prove your christianity..
A crime is a crime. Hate is involved in EVERY crime. This is redundant and unnecessary.
This is clearly an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of speech.
Does this mean that that LIBERAL blogger up in Alaska would be prosecuted for what he did to the Palins????
It IS pretty HATEFUL.
And it covers 2 of Holders covered entities.( disabled and gender )
After viewing all of the HATEFUL comments under the Palin blog, I wonder how many of them would qualify to be prosecuted???
You want to see TRUE HATE just look the the LEFT.
It goes without saying that Republicans have no focus on prosecuting hate crimes. The 'base' of the new republican party is home for right-wing extremist (politicians, media, citizens) ,who react violently to people who do not think or look like themselves.
Welcome to the 21st century. All crimes are hate crimes. It is obvious hate crime laws do nothing to deter hate crimes, so why not increase the sentencing for ALL CRIMES.
I am sorry, just because a white person assaults a black person because of their skin color, does not make that crime any more or less heinous then if it was done without race being a motivating factor.
People who are evil enough to do the crime are evil inside. They are just using race as a justification. If they didn't have that motivation, they would come up with a different excuse.
Hate is hate. A crime is a crime.
Hate crime is an oxymoron. Why should some crimes be more illegal than others? If I shoot you to take your wallet or because you are white you were still shot.
@Phat Elvis June 25th, 2009 3:48 pm ET
well of course the GOP is not pursuaded– they are the party of hate!!!
Hmmm, Phat Elvis...that's a pretty hateful statement in and of itself. Typical left-wing hypocrisy.
Isn't any crime that results in death or bodily injury a hate crime? Regardless of color, gender, or sexual orientation.
So the white, male Starbucks manager who was beaten to death in Philadelphia by black teenagers (on a dare) was a hate crime?
Come on CNN post this. I have not said anything that is not true. In fact you covered this murder.
More big brother stepping in to create laws and tell the states what to do..these laws are already on the books and are up to the states to enforce..the government needs to become smaller not larger..and it needs to stop forcing itself on the states and creating more laws that cost the states more and more money..these costs end up as a bigger burden on the taxpayers..enforce the laws that already exist mr holder and keep your feel good politics to yourself