U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes a “stain on our nation’s very soul” in a speech Monday at a Virginia mosque.
“Hate crimes target more than just the individual at that time; they target the fabric of our communities,” Lynch said. “They are also a stain on our nation’s very soul.”
Lynch, the first African-American woman to be named U.S. attorney general, joined interfaith leaders at a news conference at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling, Virginia, to address rising hate crimes across the U.S.
Lynch, pointing to a “disturbing” 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015, called the rise a “sobering indication of how much more work remains to be done.”
Hate crimes surged in the 10 days after Donald Trump’s’ election victory, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said in a report that Muslim-Americans are facing the worst Islamophobia since the 9/11 terror attacks.
“Behind every number is a person. Behind every statistic is someone whose rights have been violated,” Lynch said. “When one of us falls, we all have to step up without regard for our own safety. When one of us is threatened, we all have to speak out.”
She encouraged all Americans to report hate crimes and act as “eyes and ears” for the Department of Justice.
“We have always known that the price of freedom is constant vigilance,” Lynch said.
The attorney general said there was an ever-growing need for an active DOJ, citing the rise in anti-Muslim acts as well as an increase in “divisive and fearful rhetoric.”
“To invoke a blanket stereotype to characterize any members of any faith because of the actions of some who pervert that faith is to take our nation backwards,” she said.
Several faith leaders at the news conference focused on the bipartisan nature of religious freedom.
“Protecting religious freedom is not a Democratic issue or Republican issue. It is not a right-wing issue or a left-wing issue,” the Dulles center’s imam, Mohamed Magid, said. “It is an American issue.”
The Rev. Bob Roberts, senior pastor at Northwood Church in Texas, echoed Magid’s sentiments.
“America will not be great unless America does right,” Roberts said. “It’s time for all of us Americans to stand up in this time.”
Lynch referenced several DOJ measures to prosecute and combat hate crimes, including classroom religious tolerance initiatives, partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects houses of worship. The Justice Department has used the law to investigate more than 50 cases since 2010, she said.
“We have accomplished so much, and there is so much more to do,” Lynch said. “But that’s what we do ― that’s what we do as Americans, that’s what we do as people of faith. We keep moving. We push forward.”