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Religious Tolerance logo

U.S. hate crime bills: Conservative fears & concerns

What the bill says.
Concerns about:
1. Conspiracy charges &
2. The definition of "sexual orientation"

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Review of the federal hate crimes bill:

As of 2009-JUL-20, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (a.k.a. LLEHCRA), has been passed by the House as H.R. 1913, and by the Senate as S. 909. Both are popularly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (a.k.a. MSHCPA) 1

It would update the federal hate crimes act of 1968. In the past, that law has applied only to certain violent hate crimes motivated by racism, or hatred of a victim's ethnicity, national origin or religion. LLEHCRA would add hatred of the victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability to the list of protected classes. It would also broaden the locations of crimes of violence that are covered.

What the bill says:

If passed into law, this revision to the existing federal hate crimes act would not change the basic nature of the 1968 law. It would only increase the number of protected classes and make the law more generally applicable.

The law would still only apply to a narrow range of violent hate crimes:

  1. There must be a physical assault of some type -- a "crime of violence." This could be a common assault, aggravated assault, shooting, triggering of a bomb, arson, etc.
  2. The perpetrator would have to be found guilty of that assault.
  3. The prosecutors would then have to prove that the perpetrator was motivated by hatred of men, women, heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, or some other protected class listed in the act. i.e. it would have to be proven that the assault was more than a simple assault; it was an attempt to terrorize an entire community that shared the religion, gender, sexual orientation, or some other attribute of the victim. Further, the prosecutors would have to show that the assault fell into the scope of the federal law. For example, if a person was beaten with a baseball bat, they might have to prove that the bat was manufactured in another state or country, or purchased from a supplier in another state or country.
  4. If these items can be proven, the stiff sentencing provisions of the hate-crime law could be applied to the perpetrator.

The rationale is that a hate crime is a unique type of criminal activity. In essence, a hate crime has two components:

bulletThe first is an assault, attempted murder or murder of the immediate victim motivated by hatred of a group to which she or he belongs.
bulletThe second is an act of terrorism directed at everyone in the group to whom the victim belongs.

A physical attack on a Jew because he is a Jew terrorizes all Jews. A violent attack on a gay person because he is gay terrorizes all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT) And so on.

Conservative concerns about the bill:

Some social and religious conservatives are opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons:

Concern #1: Charges of conspiracy under this bill:

They often suggest a hypothetical situation in which:

bulletA pastor delivers a hate speech or sermon to a congregation condemning gays and lesbians.
bulletAn emotionally unstable member of the congregation is so inflamed by the speech that he/she later attacks the next gay or lesbian that they see.
bulletBoth  the pastor and the perpetrator of the violent attack are then charged with conspiracy under the hate crimes law.

This, in turn, would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech among anyone who wants to give an anti-gay sermon or speech. Merely reading one of the six "clobber" passages from the Bible that some people believe directs hatred against gays or reading the one passage that some people believe directs hatred towards lesbians could eventually result in a conspiracy charge under this law.

There are some weakness in this argument:

bulletThe existing 1969 hate-crimes bill has been in place to protect people on the basis of their religion, race, color, and national origin for four decades. The FBI has documented tens of thousands of recorded hate crimes during this time interval against people because of their color or religion -- primarily against blacks, and Jews. Yet, to our knowledge, conservative groups have yet to mention a single case where a Christian -- either pastor or member of the laity -- has been charged with conspiracy to commit a hate crime because of some hate sermon or speech that denigrated people on the basis of their race, color, nationality or religion.
bulletWe have searching the Internet for mention of such a crime without success.
bulletWe have documented incidents during the 1990s where members of the Creativity Movement have apparently been so disturbed by the racist teachings of their church -- and in particular by the teachings of their leader -- that they committed violent acts. These included an assassination, bombing sprees, common assault, arson, and a shooting rampage. Yet no leader of the Creativity Movement was ever charged in connection with the crimes of their members. This would seem to indicate that the chances of a conspiracy charge in the future under the proposed bill is zero or essentially zero.

To further reduce the possibility of being charged with incitement to commit a criminal act, Artur Davis (D-AL), a co-sponsor of the 2007 hate crime bill, offered an amendment to that bill. It clarified that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech would not be affected by the bill. That is, pastors and other Christians who denigrate homosexuals or women or the disabled or transsexuals, etc. need not fear being charged with conspiracy if a someone is motivated by their speech to commit a violent act. The amendment reads:

"Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution." 2

This identical wording was incorporated in Section 10 of the 2009 bill. 3

The ethics of religious hate-speech:

Is hate-speech ethical in a religious setting?

Consider a situation in which a clergyperson read the New Living Translation's mistranslation of Leviticus 20:13:

"The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have committed a detestable act, and are guilty of a capital offense."

(We say "mistranslation" because the clear meaning of the verse in the original Hebrew restricts the death penalty to a specific sexual behavior by two males, and not to all possible sexual behaviors by either two males or two females, as the NLT implies. There exists major disagreements about what specific behavior the verse refers.)

Conceivably, when this is read out in church, a member of the congregation could believe that this English translation is God's word, and that it places an obligation on Christians to kill gays and lesbians. This might cause the member to commit an assassination or assault on the next gay or lesbian that they see.

One might ask whether a pastor should really incorporate homophobic hate passages from the Bible into their sermons that are so virulently denigrating that they might induce a member of the congregation to commit an assassination or assault on the next gay or lesbian that they see.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew write that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) said:

"...whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:22, NIV).

"Raca" is a term of contempt and derision, as is 'Moros' -- the Greek word that is here translated here as "fool." If a single word of contempt places the speaker's eternal destiny after death in jeopardy, then advocating physical violence or murder would presumably be a far more serious transgression to a Christian.

Concern # 2: The bill will protect pedophiles, rapists, etc.:

Outside of the conservative Protestant community, the term "sexual orientation" refers to the gender to which a person is sexually attracted:
bulletHeterosexuals are persons only attracted to the opposite sex;
bulletHomosexuals only to the same sex, and
bulletBisexuals to both sexes.

However the conservative Protestant community often defines commonly used words very differently. This makes discussion, dialogue and debate essentially impossible.

Conservatives generally define the term "sexual orientation" in terms of actual sexual behavior. They normally define:
bulletHomosexuality as involving recent same-sex sexual behavior,
bulletHeterosexuality as remaining celibate or restricting recent sexual behavior to members of the opposite sex.
bulletBisexuality as involving recent sexual behavior with both men and women.
It is confusing enough to have two very different definitions circulating throughout the culture. However, a few conservative groups have gone further: they have combined:
bulletThe three sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality, with
bulletA couple of dozen paraphilias. The latter "a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors ..."4 Many paraphilias are criminal sex acts. Examples are voyeurism, bestiality, necrophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, etc.

These groups conclude that "sexual orientation" includes over 30 behaviors, from heterosexuality to pedophilia. To them, a hate crime law that protects people from violent attacks due to their sexual orientation would protect all heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals, as well as adults who engage in sex with young children, with pubertal children, with dead people, sex involving pain, with animals, etc.

Many conservative Protestants are so isolated from sources of information outside of their wing of Christianity that they assume that the above are generally used definitions of "sexual orientation." More information.

When Republicans suggested an amendment to include a definition of "sexual orientation" within the bill, it was voted down by the Democrats.

Related essays:

bulletU.S. hate-crimes statistics
bulletSpecific quotations by religious and social conservatives on the 2007 bill

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. "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by House): HR 1592 EH," Library of Congress, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  3. "Text of H.R. 1913: Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009," GovTrack.us, at: http://www.govtrack.us/
  4. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, 2007-APR-18, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2007-APR-18
Latest update: 2009-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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