Accusations that hate-crime
laws would inhibit free speech
This essay deals mainly with a series of unsuccessful
hate-crime bills dating from the years 2000 to 2004.
However, the identical concerns are still being
about the 2009 hate-crime bill.
"A hate crime is fundamentally different from an identical act
not motivated by hate because the hate crime's end is different. A hate
crime is done to intimidate and oppress a particular group of people.
The action itself is fundamentally different." Blake Roberts, in The
Hoya, Georgetown University 1
"We must continue to fight for justice, hope, and freedom by
ensuring that hate crimes prevention provisions are enacted into law.
That would be a true and fitting memorial to James Byrd, Matthew
Shepard, Waqar Hasan, Gwen Araujo and so many others who have died
because of ignorance and intolerance." Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 2
Negative comments, mainly concerned with restrictions on hate speech:
"This 'Hate Crimes Bill'? would make it illegal to not only commit a hate
crime against someone but also 'cause' a hate crime through your speech. It
protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT) people along with
pedophiles and 30 other sexual orientations from being spoken against in
"If this 'hate crime' legislation were
to become law, it would be used against individuals and churches that
speak out on issues such as defending marriage and religious liberty."
Massachusetts Family Institute. 4 & Family Research Council.
"There are those that would delight in silencing
any criticism of their lifestyle and would find this hate-crime
legislation the perfect tool for accomplishing their end." Reverend
Dr. Simpson, Harvester Baptist Church, Colombia, MD. 6
"Hate crimes legislation could severely restrict Americans'
freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of religion."
Family Research Council 7
Conservative Christians' concerns about freedom of speech:
All of the concerns about hate-crime legislation that we have seen to date
have come from conservative Christian groups. They seem to be alarmed about two
That the law would inhibit hate speech in religious settings directed
against sexual minorities.
That sexual orientation (i.e. heterosexuality, homosexuality and
bisexuality) might become a protected class in hate-crimes legislation. This
would lead to greater acceptance of homosexuality as a normal and natural
sexual orientation for a minority of adults.
2001-SEP: WV: West Virginia Family Foundation (WVFF):Kevin McCoy,
leader of the WVFF, complained about a training course that was
being given to police officers by the assistant attorney general for West
Virginia. The WVFF is an affiliate of the American Family
Association, a fundamentalist Christian group. The course mentions that some of the hate groups in the U.S.
(presumably referring to the Christian Identity movement, the KKK, and
"include apocalyptic Christianity in their ideology and believe we are in, or
approaching, a period of violence and social turmoil which will precede
the Second Coming of Christ."
This is a comment found also in
FBI and CSIS
documents that were released in late 1999. (CSIS is the "Canadian Security Intelligence Service, a
Federal government agency.)At the time, both intelligence agencies were
concerned about the possibility of major upheaval due to computer failures and
other disturbances during the year 2000 -- commonly called the Y2K
problem.According to an article in the
"McCoy takes this to mean anyone with a literal
interpretation of the Bible, especially in regard to scriptures on
prophecy, is part and parcel of a hate group. 8
seems to have interpreted this quotation from the course to mean that because
a few hate groups who represent a very small percentage of the American
believe in an imminent and violent end of the world, that anyone who believes
in a violent end of the world is a member of a hate group. The latter would
include essentially all fundamentalists and most other evangelicals -- probably a
majority of adults in West Virginia. The break in logic is obvious.
"Could this mean preachers would be hauled off to
the courts to face hate crime violations? ... To
conservative groups such as McCoy's, cleverly linking Nazis and Klan
groups or others backgrounded in violence with opponents of homosexuality
is an old tack harking back to the "big lie" method of the [Nazi Germany's]
2001-JUL-26: Traditional Values Coalition (TVC): The TVC issued a press
release concerning "The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act," S. 625
-- a bill that was before the U.S. Senate at the time. The release said in part:
"This legislation also provides a blank check for the funding of law enforcement
and public school materials that promote anti-Christian bigotry under the
guise of reducing 'hate' ."
Quoting Andrea Lafferty, Executive Director of TVC, the release said:
"This law will violate the free
speech rights of Christians and others who oppose homosexuality on moral
grounds. This is a direct attack against the First Amendment and freedom
of religion. It must not be passed by the Senate."
2001-JUN-1: Focus on the Family:Focus regularly issues
reports on "family issues in policy and culture." One deals with hate
crime legislation. They suggest that laws of this type "harm
religious freedom." They stated, in part:
laws could (and probably would) be used to harm people of faith, chill
free speech, and even lead to same-sex 'marriage'."
They define the phrase "chill free speech" as meaning "to intimidate or
discourage a person from speaking."
They conclude that if a
Christian were to commit a hate crime motivated by his/her hatred of
homosexuals, then their clergyperson might be "prosecuted for conspiracy or subjected to
civil lawsuits" if he/she had preached against homosexuality in advance of the
hate crime. The Focus writer is also concerned that hate crime legislation
that includes protection for sexual orientation might influence future
legislation on different topics -- e.g. allowing committed, loving
same-sex couples to marry.
Undated: Liberty Counsel:Liberty Counsel is a
fundamentalist Christian agency concerned with religious freedom rights
for Christians. In an undated memorandum they express concern over the "Local
Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2000." The bill was extremely
limited in scope; it would only cover crimes that injure or kill a person
which were motivated by hatred of their actual or perceived sexual
orientation, if the crime was tied in some way to interstate commerce,
and if the crime was committed using fire, a firearm, incendiary device or
bomb. They state:
"The religious organizations and clergy that would be
impacted by this Bill are those who have a sincere belief that
homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism [sic] and bisexuality violate their
religious tenets." 9
As is common with conservative
Christian groups, they are referring to behavior, not to sexual
orientation -- the factor that would be protected by the legislation.
Their inclusion of being transgender appears to be in error. It is not a
sexual orientation; it is a gender identity -- a factor that would not be
covered by the year 2000 bill. On a positive note, this is one of the rare
instances when a conservative Christian group refers to bisexual or and
They cite a hypothetical situation in which a minister preached a sermon
that called on his congregation to "actively oppose the promotion or
acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle in their community." A member
of the congregation might then torture and fatally crucify a gay man, as was done
to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. They speculate that the pastor could be charged with
conspiracy to commit a hate crime. Stanley and Staver
point out that some states have"
"expansive definitions of conspiracy
that only require agreement to pursue an objective that may be lawful
(i.e. opposition to the homosexual lifestyle) in an unlawful manner and
that the crime committed was a natural and foreseeable consequence of the
2001-AUG-1: ChristiansUnite.com: Reporter Andrea Lafferty wrote
an article about an early proposed federal hate-crimes bill S.625. She refers to
a book by James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter who state that the goal of hate
crimes legislation is to criminalize people's beliefs about right and
wrong. She also refers to educator Jonathan
Kozol who states that such legislation: "are symptomatic of society's
Balkanization. They are futile in the long run. We cannot rebuild society
by legislative penalties for insensitive acts and utterances." 10, 11
Undated: Family Research Council (FRC): People for the American
Way, a liberal agency, criticized the Family Research Council for "bearing
false witness" in one of their action alerts. FRC is quoted as stating
"Hate crimes legislation could severely restrict Americans'
freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of religion. This
legislation would give the government the power to interpret and classify
certain speech, thought, theology, and moral belief as unlawful or
contributing to crime. Will pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious
leaders who preach and teach against homosexual conduct be prosecuted for
inciting a hate crime?" 7
See also an essay on
Conservatives' concerns about
the 2007 and 2009 versions of the hate crime legislation
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.