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U.S. hate crime bills/laws

2007 House hate-crime bill H.R. 1592:
Proposed text; support; opposition.

Sponsored link.

Proposed federal hate crimes legislation:

On 2007-MAR-20, Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA). 1 Its informal name is the Matthew Shepard Act, named after a gay male who died after being physically attacked and crucified in Wyoming. 2

If passed into law, H.R. 1592 would update the earlier federal hate crimes act of 1968. The latter act is restricted to only certain hate crimes. In addition, they must be motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, or national origin. 1

LLEHCRA would expand hate-crimes coverage to include physically violent crimes in which the perpetrator was motivated by hatred of the victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

In common with a companion Senate bill S. 1105, the bill notes that:

bullet"The incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem."
bullet"Such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive."
bullet"A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected."
bullet"Federal jurisdiction over certain violent crimes motivated by bias enables Federal, State, and local authorities to work together as partners in the investigation and prosecution of such crimes."
bullet"The problem of crimes motivated by bias is sufficiently serious, widespread, and interstate in nature as to warrant Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes."

If the bill is signed into law, it would only be applicable if:

bulletA crime occurs that includes an assault, aggravated assault, or shooting, and
bulletIt can be shown that the perpetrator was motivated to commit the law because of hatred of one of the protected groups, and
bulletIf the crime included:
bulletTravel across a state line or national border, or
bulletUsed a "channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce," or
bulletA weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, or
bulletAn interference with commercial or other economic activity.

A companion bill S. 1105 has been introduced into the Senate.

A serious deficiency in the bill:

One serious deficiency is the bill, and of the corresponding bill S. 1105 is in the "Definitions" section. It contains no definition for "sexual orientation." It is fairly common for fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians to define basic terms one way while mainline Christians, progressive Christians, secularists, members of other religions, medical professionals, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, and others define them differently. Sexual orientation is no exception.

The nearly universally accepted definition is related to the gender of those whom a person finds sexually attractive: people with a homosexual orientation are attracted to the same gender; heterosexuals to the opposite gender; bisexuals to both genders -- although not necessarily to the same degree.  Some conservative Christians define it very differently, and include gender, age, species, and living/non-living status. As a result, the latter claim that protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation will protect heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals as well as pedophiles, hebephiles, necrophiliac, and persons into having sex with animals.

By not defining the term "sexual orientation" the sponsors of the bill leave it potentially open to some rather unusual criticisms that could have been prevented. According to commentary on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ program, a number of evangelical Christian activist groups have claimed that there are not three but thirty different sexual orientations, and the proposed bill would cover them all.

Opposition to the bill:

Some social and religious conservatives are opposed to the bill because they feel it will criminalize religious hate speech on the topic of homosexuality. A second reason is that it would treat sexual orientation in the same protected group of classes as religion, and race.

Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a fundamentalist Christian group, said:

"It's on a very fast track. ... This bill begins to lay the legal foundation and framework to investigate, prosecute and persecute pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions are based upon, and reflect, the truths found in the Bible."

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, (R-OR), a sponsor of the Senate bill, disagreed, saying that it would not restrict freedom of speech. He said:

"Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill," 2

More details.

Criticism of the proposed law:

bulletRev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, a fundamentalist Christian group,  wrote:

"Under the cover of fighting so-called 'hate crimes,' H.R. 1592 will be used to fund anti-Christian, pro-homosexual/drag queen materials for children ? and divert scarce federal resources away from fighting Islamic terrorism." 3

bulletMore comments by religious and social conservatives.
bulletJoe Murray, a lawyer and former columnist for the American Family Association, a fundamentalist Christian group, wrote:

"If hate crimes is to be law, than why exclude gays? It is one thing to be against hate crimes, it is another to intentionally deny protection to a class of individuals when one enjoys the protection he is denying. This is shameful."

"Even more disturbing is the tone of the debate and the use of half truths to frame the issue. And, in an act that has become all too familiar by those representing the Christian community, fear has replaced fact."

" 'Most Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs,' proclaimed Andrea Lafferty, executive director for the Traditional Values Coalition. This is pure hogwash."
"While Lafferty is correct that LLEHCPA will 'elevate homosexuality' to the same level [of protection] as race and religion, nothing - and let it be repeated again - nothing in the act would criminalize Christianity. Rather than debate why she feels homosexuals are not entitled to the same protections as Christians or blacks, she resorts to rhetoric."
"Doubt this statement? Look no further than LLEHCPA itself."

"LLEHCPA holds any person who 'willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person' is guilty of a hate crime'."

"Translation - you have to commit an act of violence against an individual before you can be charged with a crime. There is no thought police. No Big Brother boogeyman. Thus, unless Lafferty has acquired the talents of Ghost Whisperer, she is howling at the moon."
"Furthermore, LLEHCPA also reads, 'In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial ... .' The First Amendment is covered." 4

Religious groups' support for the bill:

Clergy from every state in the U.S. converged on Capitol Hill on 2007-APR-17 to support the expansion of the existing hate crimes law to include the disabled, heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, women, men, and transsexuals.

Bishop Carlton Pearson of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, OK said:

"It is morally wrong to deprive anyone of the means to feed themselves and care for their families. Passage of this bill will help gay, lesbian and transgender people in 33 states where you can be fired for simply being gay." 2

Covenant News, a fundamentalist Christian news organization described the support by clergy as "Heretics rally to expand hate-crime laws."

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "H.R. 1582," text, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  2. Eric Pfeiffer, "Clergy rally to expand hate-crime law to gays," The Washington Times, 2007-APR-18, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/
  3. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "Pro-homosexual/drag queen bill on fast track in House of Representatives," tvc-national newsletter, 2007-APR-12.
  4. Joe Murray, "The right time," The Bulletin (Philadelphia). 2007-APR-02, at: http://www.thebulletin.us/
  5. "Family values or the liberal status quo?," Mailing, Family Research Council, 2007-MAY-02.
  6. "Psychology Dictionary: E-J," AllPsych Online, at: http://allpsych.com/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2007-APR-12
Latest update: 2009-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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