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U.S. hate crime bills H.R. 1913 (2009)

Conservatives' concerns over free
speech surfaces during 2009-APR

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Background on H.R. 1913:

In 2009-APR, H.R. 1913 1 was considered by the House Judiciary Committee and later by the entire House. Many conservative Christian media issued warnings that the bill could criminalize speech about the Bible and homosexuality. They raised the image of pastors being charged under the act after simply reading biblical passages during their sermons.

This concern was echoed by many conservative Christian parachurch groups and appears to have been accepted as "gospel truth" by the vast majority of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Conservative Christian media and parachurch organizations that have joined the chorus of concern over H.R. 1913 are running a high risk to their credibility. A "cry wolf" situation may occur. If the bill passes into law and no conservatives are arrested for speech attacking homosexuals, the conservative Christian community may become skeptical to the next alarm that is raised.

Interpretation of conservatives' free speech concerns:

People for the American Way (PFAW), a liberal advocacy group, suggests that this opposition to the hate crimes bill is:

"...  in large measure because they resist any legal recognition of LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender persons). They know that most Americans support hate-crimes legislation, anti-discrimination laws, and legal protection for gay couples. So they create confusion by portraying these steps toward equality as dire threats to religious liberty. This is part of a larger political strategy by Religious Right leaders to advance their policy goals and mobilize supporters with alarmist claims that Christians in America are on the verge of being jailed for their religious beliefs."

"As we have noted before, there's a dangerously cynical motive at the core of this strategy.  It is easier to convince Americans to support discrimination -- even to oppose laws designed to discourage violent hate crimes -- if you have first convinced them that their gay neighbors want to shut down their church and throw their pastor in jail for reading the Bible." 8

Other interpretations of conservatives' free speech concerns:

Rep. Steve Cohen, (D-TN), cited one of the Ten Commandments on the floor of the House:   

"People who submit that preachers could be arrested for preaching against homosexuality, which they do today, that they could be arrested, there is a commandment about that: 'Don't bear false witness'."
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn issued a memo explaining that the bill is aimed at criminal behavior, not religious speech. He wrote:
"The bill will NOT limit religious expression. Some churches have stated that with passage of this bill, ministers may be arrested for speech and words said in the pulpits. This is false. This bill is about violent crime. It is not about and does not prohibit thought, speech or expression protected by the First Amendment."

Related essay:

bulletReactions by conservative Christian groups towards the U.S. hate-crime bills
bulletCoverage of the 2009 hate crime bill by the conservative media

References used:

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

  1. "Text of H.R. 1913: Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009," GovTrack.us, at: http://www.govtrack.us/
  2. Jennifer Mesko, "U.S. House Creates Special Legal Status for Gay People," CitizenLink, 2009-APR-29, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/
  3. "Hate Crimes Bill HR 1913 primed for house debate," Theodore's World, 2009-APR-27, at: http://www.theodoresworld.net/
  4. Tony Perkins, "Why Congress Should Reject Federal 'Hate Crimes' Bill," Family Research Council, 2009-APR-22, at: http://www.frc.org/
  5. "Democrats Choose to Protect Only Homosexuals, Leave Pregnant Women, the Elderly, and Veterans Out in the Cold," Concerned Women for America, 2009-APR-23, at:  http://www.cwalac.org/
  6. Kathleen Gilbert, "Obama Urges House of Representatives to Pass Sexual Orientation 'Hate Crimes' Bill," LifeSiteNews, 2009-APR-29, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  7. "Wisconsin v. Mitchell," 508 U.S. 476 (1993).
  8. "Right Sounds False Alarm On Hate Crimes Legislation," People for the American Way, at: http://site.pfaw.org/site/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAY-01
Latest update: 2009-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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