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U.S. hate crime bills: Conservative concerns

More about free speech, equal
justice and other concerns: Part 1

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Reaction to the earlier version of the hate bill:

When the 2007 version of the federal hate crimes bill was introduced to the House, many religious conservatives expressed their strong disapproval. One of their concerns centered around free speech. They were concerned that if the bill becomes law, it would directly restrict the freedom of pastors and other Christians from discussing homosexuality.

According to People for the American Way (PFAW), a liberal civil rights advocacy group:

bulletFamily Research Council President Tony Perkins stated that the bill would: "... gag people of faith and conviction who disagree with the homosexual agenda." 
 
bullet"Bishop Harry Jackson recruited other African American pastors to appear at a press conference and in a newspaper ad claiming that hate crimes legislation would 'muzzle' black preachers and deny them the freedom to preach about homosexuality."   
 
bulletRev. Ted Pike of the National Prayer Network referred to the bill as: "the most dangerous legislation ever to come before Congress." 
 
bulletAndrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition said "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." 1

Initial reaction to the 2009 version was slow to materialize:

Representative John Conners, head of the House Judiciary Committee, reintroduced the 2007 bill as HR 1913: The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. 2

Before the bill was passed by the Committee, Rev. Ted Pike of the National Prayer Network, a conservative Christian watchdog organization, complained about the relative lack of concern expressed by leading fundamentalist Christian groups. Pike wrote on 2009-APR-18 that:

"... most major Christian/conservative websites, while opposed to a federal hate crimes bill in general, have not specifically mentioned the existence of Conyers' bill. (These include Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, American Center for Law and Justice, Liberty Counsel, etc.)!" 3

However, after the bill exited the House Judiciary Committee on 2009-APR-23 and was passed overwhelmingly by the House, coverage by conservative news sources increased drastically.

Coverage of the bill by conservative media:

Unfortunately, most of this coverage focused on one aspect of the bill: the protection of homosexuals from physical attacks motivated by hatred of the victim's sexual orientation. Most coverage seemed to incorrectly imply that the main or sole emphasis of the bill was to give special rights and protections to homosexuals. In reality, every person would be equally protected by the proposed law:

bulletEveryone on the basis of their sexual orientation: whether they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
bulletEveryone on the basis of their gender, whether male, female or intersexual.
bulletEveryone on the basis of their religious status, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, follower of another religion or follower of no religion.
bulletEveryone on the basis of their gender identity, whether cisgendered, transgender or transsexual.
bulletEveryone on the basis of their ability or disability.
bulletEveryone on the basis of their actual or perceived race, color, or national origin. 1

Thus every person in the U.S. would be protected in eight different ways by the bill.

Unfortunately, many religious and social conservatives rely on these news sources and assume that what the sources write is reliable, complete, and balanced.

How CitizenLink interpreted HB 1913:

CitizenLink, is a news service of Focus on the Family Action, a fundamentalist Christian group centered in Colorado. Jennifer Mesko wrote an article on 2009-APR-29 titled "U.S. House Creates Special Legal Status for Gay People." 4 An anonymous author wrote an article on 2009-APR-30 titled: "Hate-Crimes Bill May Add Protection for Pedophiles." 5

In reality:

bulletThe bill does not give any type of special status to gays. It gives equal status to persons of all sexual orientations. Whether they be heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, their protection would be identical if the bill is signed into law.
 
bulletThe bill would not give protection to pedophiles. While it does give protection to persons of all sexual orientations, pedophilia is not considered a sexual orientation by the legislative, medical, mental health, religious liberal and other communities. A few fundamentalist Christian para-church groups have, for their own purposes, uniquely redefined pedophilia and over two dozen other paraphilias as sexual orientations. Some suggest that they have done this solely to confuse debate over hate crimes laws. If they can convince people that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, then they might convince them that hate crimes legislation protects pedophiles, and thus withdraw support.
 
bulletThe focus of the bill is to discourage violent acts by giving perpetrators longer jail sentences for hate crimes when their attacks are motivated by hatred of persons of a certain race, color, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Both Citizenlink reports contained the same two curious sentences:

bullet " Under the 'hate-crimes' legislation, pastors could be prosecuted for preaching the biblical view of homosexuality." This is simply untrue. The bill specifies that a person charged must have willfully caused:

"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 ... sexual orientation ... of any person."

If pastor preached about homosexuality, picked up a baseball bat, went to a member of the congregation who the pastor suspected was a homosexual, and committed aggravated assault, then the pastor might well be charged under this law. But he or she would be charged on the basis of the aggravated assault, and not because of the sermon against homosexuality -- and then probably only if the baseball bat crossed state line(s) in order to get into his hands.

A second problem with this statement was that it implied that there is only a single interpretation of "the biblical view of homosexuality." In fact, we have found six interpretations of homosexuality. Most or all of them are believed by their supporters to be biblically based. The six or so biblical passages that may refer to homosexuality can be and are interpreted in many different ways.

This essay continues in Part 2

References used:

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

  1. "Right Sounds False Alarm On Hate Crimes Legislation," People for the American Way, at: http://site.pfaw.org/site/
  2. "Text of H.R. 1913: Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009," GovTrack.us, at: http://www.govtrack.us/
  3. "Rep.Frakn: Judiciary could approve hate bill next week!," National Prayer Network. 2009-APR-15, at: http://www.hatelawsexposed.org/
  4. Jennifer Mesko, "U.S. House Creates Special Legal Status for Gay People," CitizenLink, 2009-APR-29, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/
  5. "Hate-Crimes Bill May Add Protection for Pedophiles," CitizenLink, 2009-APR-30, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAY-01
Latest update: 2009-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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