Creating a Hate Crime Ordinance for Iowa City

The Client: A coalition of religious and activist organization members form the Johnson County Interfaith Coalition (JCIC). This coalition seeks to create social equity, “first and foremost for persons of color,” and created a Safe Communities Task Force to address bias motivated incidents in Iowa City and to improve community response to these incidents.

The Problem: Occurrences of hate crime and hate speech have been on the rise since 2016, with several occurring in the Iowa City area. One particular incident -- during which flyers advertising a white nationalist group were distributed to homes in the Weatherby Park neighborhood, a community comprised primarily of persons of color -- prompted the creation of  JCIC.  The Safe Communities Task Force would like to create a hate crime ordinance to deter future incidents, to improve law enforcement and governmental response, and to express the community's commitment to diversity and inclusivity and its lack of tolerance for hate.

The Outcome: The CELP team interviewed several local and national stakeholders, facilitated group discussions with the Task Force, conducted legal and policy research, and gathered data on the impact of legislative action related to hate crime and hate speech, motivation and habits of perpetrators committing hate crimes, and the legal barriers to implementing a hate crime ordinance. The third parties CELP interviewed included law professors, civil rights counselors, activist coalitions, and community leaders. The CELP facilitated group discussions with the client to help identify and prioritize the goals and needs of the Task Force. The CELP’s legal and policy research focused on gathering and analyzing ordinances related to hate or bias from several cities and counties, researching the Johnson County and Iowa state policies currently in place to address hate and bias activity, and understanding the implications and limitations of  First Amendment jurisrpudence and Home Rule.  The work performed by the CELP legal team culminated in a presentation proposing drafts of two ordinances to address the Task Force’s goals, suggestions for presenting legislation to City Council, and non-legislative solutions for combating hate crimes, including a community education plan and solutions focused on law enforcement training.