President Barack Obama signed an expanded hate crimes bill into law Wednesday making it a federal offense to commit a crime against a person based on their disability.

Under the new law, hate crimes protections hearkening back to 1968 will be widened to include crimes committed based on a person’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Already federal law includes protections for crimes committed based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The new law also gives federal authorities more leeway to investigate and prosecute suspected hate crimes. Altogether the bill marks the largest expansion of civil rights protections in decades.

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“We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Obama said Wednesday at a ceremony commemorating the enactment of the new law. “No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.”

The expanded protections were long sought, but languished for years amid opposition from the Bush administration and difficulty passing Congress. Most Republicans in Congress voted against the bill this time around with some saying it amounted to “thought crimes legislation.”

People with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than those without disabilities, according to a Justice Department study released in early October. What’s more, the study found that about one in five crime victims with disabilities believe their disability was the reason they were targeted.