Critiquing Hate Crimes Legislation

This lesson leads students to analyze the nature of hate and explore legislation that addresses hate crimes.
Grade Level


Activities meet the following objectives:

  • access, study, and compare primary-source documents
  • research and organize information
  • plan, organize, and execute a live performance
Essential Questions
  • What is the nature of hate?
  • What is the statistical picture of hate crimes in America?
  • How does the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expand protections against hate crimes?
  • Who were Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.?
  • How does the new law compare to previous hate-crimes legislation?


hate |hāt|
(noun) A strong feeling of dislike.
(verb) To strongly dislike.

crime |krīm|
(noun) An act or behavior that breaks a law. A crime is usually punished by a fine or prison time.

law |lô|
(noun) A rule that helps keep order within a society.

legislation |ˌlejəˈslā sh ən|
(noun) A law or laws passed by a government body.



Reading/Language Arts/Speech/Performing Arts

1. The hate-crimes legislation recently passed by Congress is officially known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Congressional acts often are named for specific people, but time can erase the memory of their connections to important issues. As a class, share what you already know about Shepard and Byrd. How did hate crimes affect their lives?

2. Your teacher will divide the class into two groups, with one representing Matthew Shepard and the other representing James Byrd, Jr. Each group will be asked to first read their different primary source documents. Then, they will research, write and perform a monologue from the point of view of one of the men. Within your group, assign individual students – or pairs of students – to the following: research; scriptwriting; costume, prop and set design; and performance.

3. Based on your research, write a 10-minute monologue that allows the student delivering the performance to educate his audience about the incident that ended his life. A simple costume and props should be used effectively to help tell the story.

4. Designate a class period to perform “Two Stories of Hate Crime.” Following the performances, discuss what you’ve added to your knowledge of Shepard and Byrd and how their lives have shaped the social justice movement. 


Social Studies

1. The most recent federal hate crimes law expands on one that was passed in 1969. Individually or in pairs, prepare to contrast and compare the two documents. Both the 1969 law and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act are available online.

2. Begin the project by designing a print or electronic graphic organizer that will help you compare the two documents. The graphic should allow you to organize and display the following:

            a. expansion of protected populations

            b. changes in the federal role in hate-crime investigations

            c. changes in investigation restrictions

            d. penalties for hate crimes

            e. funding for hate-crime investigations and prosecutions

            f. notes or observations about the two documents

3. Read the documents, taking notes about whom the law covers and what it mandates. Transfer your notes to the graphic organizer. (If you are doing this project in pairs, decide which of you will study each document.)

4. Share the results of your comparison in an oral or written report. Based on the changes made in hate-crime legislation in the past 40 years, what do you imagine future expansion of the law might – or should – include? Add your prediction to your report.


Political Cartoon


Reprinted with permission. Teachers may purchase individual cartoons for lesson plans at PoliticalCartoons.com

In this editorial cartoon, artist Daryl Cagle depicts a group of students expressing “hate” for an undisclosed group of people. In pairs or small groups, discuss:

  • What message is he trying to convey about the nature of hate? In this case, what word would you use to describe the group? (Examples: ignorant, unaware or uneducated.) How might their conversation be different if they had accurate information or a better understanding about “them?” Act out the conversation you imagine, or redraw the cartoon to reflect it.
  • This cartoon was originally drawn on September 13, 2001. Based on this information, who might have been the “them” to which Cagle refers? If you are unsure, ask older students or family members what they recall about that time. What reaction to this group of people does Cagle’s cartoon describe?  As a class, discuss whether these attitudes have changed since the cartoon was first drawn. If so, how? What might have caused those attitudes to change?