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We must not tolerate hate crimes

All victims of hate must be protected under federal law.

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The recent troubling controversies in Jena, La., at Columbia University, and at the University of Maryland highlight the disturbing increase in the number of violent attacks and hate-motivated incidents in schools throughout the country. The nation's schools and universities have often been battlegrounds on civil rights. After all, they lay the foundation for a civil society.

If we silence the history of intolerance in the classroom; if we fail to discuss the brutal and peculiar institution of slavery, the lawlessness and lynching of the Jim Crow era, the horrors of the Third Reich, then our children will not truly comprehend the significance of contemporary acts of genocide, such as the atrocities in Rwanda or Darfur.

Unfortunately, there are some who wish to undo the worthwhile progress made in recent decades to guarantee equal rights and equal protection for all – regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. There has been a sharp increase in the number of nooses sighted across the country since September. The Southern Poverty Law Center also reports a recent rise in the number of hate groups. Just last week, the FBI reported that nearly 10,000 Americans were victims of hate crimes last year, an 8 percent increase from 2005. This upward trend in the number of hate crimes may be the tip of the iceberg, since many state and local jurisdictions don't participate in the data collection. In light of these trends, it's essential to send a strong message that America will not tolerate crimes fueled by hate.

Education is an important part of prevention, but we also need strong federal legislation to punish those who engage in hate-motivated violence and to expand federal resources available to investigate, prosecute, and prevent these vicious crimes.

For this reason, we hope President Bush will support our efforts to enact the federal hate-crimes legislation now being considered in Congress.

The bill passed the House of Representatives in March, and it was also approved by the Senate as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill in September. Both the House and Senate are expected to act upon the Defense Authorization bill before the end of the year. The next few weeks represent a historic opportunity to make this bill the law of the land.

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