Federal Laws Addressing
Hate Crime
Matthew Shepard
The fatal beating of 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998, apparently motivated at least in part by his homosexuality, has renewed the debate over hate crime legislation. Matthew Shapard's murder prompted calls from gay activists, editorial pages, and public officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton, for passage of the 1998 Federal Hate Crimes Protection Act. Had it been enacted, that bill would have allowed federal prosecution of crimes motivated by hatred based on gender, sexual orientation, and disability.  The bill was also unsuccessfully reintroduced in 1999 (click here for text of that bill and information on Federal hate crime laws.).

To view ABCNEWS' Lisa Salters on Wyoming's reactions to Matthew Shepard's violent death in RealVideo, click here.  (You can download RealPlayer here for FREE.)

Other sites to remember Matthew:



Applicable Federal Laws

The term "hate crime" is defined by various federal and state laws.  In its broadest sense, the term refers to an attack on an individual or his or her property (e.g., vandalism, arson, assault, murder) in which the victim is intentionally selected because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 

A number of federal and state laws prohibit acts or threats of violence, as well as harassment and discrimination, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and/or disability.  The applicable federal laws include the following: 

  • 18 U.S.C. Section 245. Section 245, the principal federal hate crime statute, prohibits intentional use of force or threat of force against a person because of his or her race, color, religion, or national origin, and because he or she was engaged in a federally protected activity, such as enrolling in or attending any public school or college.  Legislation has been introduced which would amend Section 245 to include crimes committed because of the victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability, and to eliminate the federally protected activity requirement.  (See 1998 Hate Crimes Prevention Act)
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI and regulations promulgated under Title VI prohibit discrimination by institutions that receive federal funding, including harassment, on the basis of race, color, and national origin. 
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX and regulations promulgated under Title IX prohibit discrimination by institutions that receive federal funding, including harassment, based on gender. 
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 and regulations promulgated under Section 504 prohibit discrimination by institutions that receive federal funding, including harassment, based on disability.
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National Hate Crimes Documentation Network