2009 hate-crimes bill:
H.R. 1913: A general overview
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913)
Representative John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the bill to the federal House on 2009-APR-02.
It was referred to the
House Judiciary Committee for consideration. It is titled: "Local Law
Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009."
It is popularly known as the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention
Act. Matthew Shepard was a male gay university student who was
pistol-whipped, tortured and assassinated by crucifixion in Wyoming during 1998
apparently because of his sexual orientation. Some suggest that he was killed
during a simple mugging. However, muggers don't usually torture and kill the
people that they target. What they did to Shepard was motivated by pure hatred.
It is the latest in a series of similar bills, dating back to the late 1990s.
None of them have become law.
The bill states that Congress has made a number of findings:
"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."
disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive."
What does the law do:
An existing federal hate crime legislation, passed in 1969, is
very narrowly based. It only applies
if the victim of a violent crime is engaged in one of six federally protected
activities, and then only:
If the perpetrator is found guilty of the crime, and
If it can be shown that the crime was motivated by a
hatred of the victim's race, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.
If both can be proven, then the perpetrator is given a higher
than usual sentence.
The 1969 law covers hate crimes motivated by one or more of the above four factors.
However, it did not extend to other categories:
Women and men who are physically
attacked because of their gender.
Cisgendered persons, transsexuals, and
transgender persons who are attacked because of their gender identity.
("Gender identity" is the gender that a person perceives themselves to be. The
vast majority of adults are cisgendered: their perceived and genetic gender
match. However, transgender persons often describe themselves as having a brain of
gender trapped in an opposite-gendered body.)
Able-bodied and disabled persons who are attacked because of
their ability/disability status.
The proposed law extends coverage to include these four
additional categories: gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and
Unfortunately, through selective reporting, many
conservative news sources imply that the law only protects homosexuals. In fact,
it covers everyone, whether they be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Also,
as noted above, it protects both men and women, persons of all sexual
identities, and of all degrees of disability. Every American would be protected
in a total of eight ways.
Common conservative opinion: Hate crimes should be treated the same:
Many religious and social conservative information sources suggest
that crimes of violence should be treated identically. No matter what the motivation, all
physical attacks of a given severity, duration and injury should be treated
equally. If a person is found guilty, they should be sentenced according to those
three factors, irrespective of their motivation at the time of the crime.
Their thoughts, biases and hatreds simply do not matter. Only their actions
should be of concern to the law.
It does not matter whether the perpetrator:
Simply wanted money and attacked the next person that walked down the
Hated the victim
as an individual for some reason, or
Hated everyone who shares the race, gender, religion,
sexual orientation, or some other aspect of the victim.
Two fundamental principles of law in America are that people should be treated
equally, and everyone has freedom of thought. If we give perpetrators
different sentences based on their motivation, then we are not treating all
criminals equally, and we are giving extra punishment to people because of their thoughts and
Two individuals who oppose hate-crime laws in principle are:
Rep. Steve King, (R-Iowa). On 2009-APR-29, he
"Under this legislation, justice will no longer be equal. Instead,
justice will depend on the protected status of the victim, setting up
different penalties for the same crime. ... I support continuing the American
tradition of equal justice under the law, and I oppose this unconstitutional
'thought crimes' bill." 2
His statement is somewhat confusing because every
victim of a violent act motivated by hate will be treated equally. If the
physical assault was motivated by hatred of the victim's apparent sexual
orientation, then heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual victims will be treated
equally. That is, everyone will have the same "protected status." Similarly
the law would protect the victim of a physical attack that is gender motivated
whether the victim is female, male or inter-sexual. And so on for assaults
motivated by hatred based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender
identity, or degree of disability.
Shawn D. Akers, law professor at
Liberty University, said:
"Because penalties already exist for those who commit criminal acts, HR 1913 serves only to punish individuals for the
beliefs, opinions, or convictions held at the time an act is committed. As such, HR 1913 does not punish criminal intent,
but criminalizes thought." 3
Common liberal opinion: Hate crimes should be treated differently:
Many religious and social liberals think differently. They differentiate
between "ordinary" violent crimes and violent crimes motivated by hatred.
In both cases, the immediate victims and their families and friends are
distressed or devastated by the violence. But violent crimes that are
motivated by hatred of a group are in a special category. They are essentially terrorist
acts. The perpetrator is not only attacking a person, they are attempting to terrorize an
entire community that shares some trait that caused the victim to be
A white supremacist who attacks an
African American because the victim is regarded as being from a "mud" race is attempting to terrorize the entire Black community. A
violent homophobe attacking a gay or lesbian person may be perceived by the
entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual/transgender community (GLBT) as a
According to Wikipedia:
"The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that penalty-enhancement
hate crime statutes do not conflict with free speech rights because they do
not punish an individual for exercising freedom of expression; rather, they
allow courts to consider motive when sentencing a criminal for conduct which
is not protected by the First Amendment." 4
"When it enacted the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, the New York State
Legislature found that:
'Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all
citizens. They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional
damage and tear at the very fabric of free society. Crimes motivated by
invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims
but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all
members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do
intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is
essential to healthy democratic processes. In a democratic society,
citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of
others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them. Current
law does not adequately recognize the harm to public order and individual
safety that hate crimes cause. Therefore, our laws must be strengthened to
provide clear recognition of the gravity of hate crimes and the compelling
importance of preventing their recurrence. Accordingly, the legislature
finds and declares that hate crimes should be prosecuted and punished with
appropriate severity'." 5
In previous years, past versions of this bill were attacked because they were
perceived as giving special privileges to gays and lesbians. This charge is
also directed at the 2009 bill, but has not as been as prominent as in previous
years. This may be because the public has become aware
that the bill would protect everyone equally and in multiple ways: heterosexuals,
bisexuals; women and men; able bodied and the disabled; etc.
However, religious and social conservative websites and news sources have been
extremely effective in convincing their readers that if the hate crimes act
becomes law, it would
lead to the prosecution of clergy who merely preach that the Bible
condemns homosexuality. Some sources have even said that if a pastor were
merely to read a biblical verse like Leviticus 20:13, she or he might be charged
with a hate crime. (That verse defines some male homosexual behavior among the
ancient Hebrews to be a capital
crime, and requires the execution of both parties. The verse is ambiguous as to
what type of same-sex behavior is involved.)
Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters said in
a interview during 2009-FEB with Broadcasting and Cable:
"When our members preach and teach from the Bible, they teach it as they find
it. They don't edit it to inject something that is not there.... But it in the
political world in which we live, any comments against the homosexual lifestyle
have been successfully characterized by much of the media as being hateful, and
hate-inspired, and it is not." 6
Describing homosexuality as a lifestyle may be confusing to much of the
"Lifestyle" implies choice, like deciding whether to live in the country or city;
to get married or remain single; to use a car or transit facilities for
transportation. Religious and social conservatives often
believe that homosexuality is a chosen behavior that can be changed at any time
and thus can be defined as a lifestyle. Most others,
including essentially all human sexuality researchers and therapists; religious
liberals; gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, transsexuals, etc
(GLBT); regard homosexuality to be a
fixed sexual orientation that an adult discovers, not
chooses. The latter group rarely refers to homosexuality as a lifestyle.
Wright is actually describing hate speech, not a hate crime. The hate crime bill only
applies in in those cases involving a "crime of violence." A pastor can advocate
restricted rights and even violence against African Americans,
women, gays, lesbians,
transsexuals, the disabled, or some other group. The
guarantee of free speech stated in the
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution will fully protect
her or him
against prosecution. The congregation might
well lose members -- particularly youth and young adults who are often repulsed by
hatred of minorities. But the pastor will not be charged with a
hate crime. A hate crime requires physical violence by the perpetrator.
One remarkable poll was conducted by OneNewsNow -- a religiously
conservative news source -- during 2009-APR. It indicates how
effectively the fear of prosecution for mere hate speech has spread within the
fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian community. While the 2009 hate crimes prevention act was being considered
by the House Judiciary Committee, they asked their site visitors:
"Should the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act become law, are
you concerned that the next step will be that pastors who speak out against
homosexuality could be charged with a 'hate crime'?" 7
The results were:
85.6% said Yes
14.4% said No.
The level of fear in the evangelical Christian community is enormous.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.