U.S. hate crime bills: Conservative fears & concerns
What the bill says.
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.
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:
The rationale is that a hate crime is a unique type of criminal activity. In essence, a hate crime has two components:
|The first is an assault, attempted murder or murder of the
immediate victim motivated by hatred of a group to which she or he
|The 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.
Some social and religious conservatives are opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons:
They often suggest a hypothetical situation in which:
|A pastor delivers a hate speech or sermon to a congregation condemning gays and lesbians.|
|An 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.
|Both 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:
|The 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
|We have searching the Internet for mention of such a crime without
|We 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
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.
Outside of the conservative Protestant community, the term "sexual orientation" refers to the gender to which a person is sexually attracted:
|Heterosexuals are persons only attracted to the opposite sex;|
|Homosexuals only to the same sex, and|
|Bisexuals 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:
|Homosexuality as involving recent same-sex sexual behavior,|
|Heterosexuality as remaining celibate or restricting recent sexual behavior to members of the opposite sex.|
|Bisexuality as involving recent sexual behavior with both men and women.|
|The three sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality, with|
|A 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.
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.
|U.S. hate-crimes statistics|
|Specific quotations by religious and social conservatives on the 2007 bill|
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
First posted: 2007-APR-18
Latest update: 2009-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson
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