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

3. "Gives special privileges;"
4: Limits hate speech; 5: Not needed.

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Fears based on:
1. prosecuting hate speech and
2. the definition of sexual orientation
are covered in a separate essay

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Additional concerns by religious and social conservatives:

Concern # 3: Bill gives gays, lesbians, and bisexuals "special privileges:"

Conservatives often refer to the bill as giving special protection to gays and lesbians. They often ignore the fact that the proposed law would protect persons of all sexual orientations equally: i.e. heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals.

Of course, a hate crime law that includes sexual orientation as a protected class would most commonly be applied to assault cases on homosexuals. That is because, according to FBI statistics: a homosexual is almost 1,000 times more likely to be a victim of homophobic violence than a heterosexual is likely to be a victim of heterophobic violence.

The FBI statistics collected the following hate crime data in 2005: 2,3

Sexual orientation of victim Number of Violent Incidents Number of adults in the U.S. with that orientation Violent Incidents per million persons
Gays 621    
Lesbians 155    
Homosexual 195    
Total homosexual 971 10.9 million 89.1
Bisexual 25 6.5 3.95
Heterosexual 21 200.4 0.10

The root cause of conservative opposition to including sexual orientation as a protected class appears to be that such protection would provide a major step towards the cultural acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality as normal and natural sexual orientations for a minority of adults.

From various forums and news sources that we have monitored, they seem to have succeeded in convincing religious and social conservatives that a main goal of this bill is the protection of homosexuals. They minimize or ignore the fact that the proposed law would also protect heterosexual and bisexual men and women from hate crimes. Further, they would protect people from violence motivated by hatred of their gender, gender identity, and degree of disability. Thus, each American would be protected from eight different bias crimes: the original set of four characteristics covered by the original 1969 hate crime bill, and these four new characteristics.

We subscribe to many newsletters sponsored by conservative religious and social agencies. Before the vote on the 2007 version of the bill in the House, we could only find one that mentioned that the bill would also protect men and women on the basis of their gender, as well as disabled people, heterosexuals, bisexuals, etc. The main emphasis seems to be on homosexuals and occasionally on transsexuals.

During debate of the 2009 bill, there was slightly more emphasis on the inclusion of gender, gender identity, and disability. However, the main emphasis was still on the protection of homosexuals.

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Concern #4: The law could directly limit hate speech.

Conservative groups often suggest that pastors could no longer read any of the six anti-gay "clobber passages" from the Bible without risking immediate criminal charges under this law. No actual violence would be required, either by the pastor or a member of her/his congregation. ... just hate speech.

This appears to be a groundless fear. The hate crimes bill only applies when an individual is charged with a crime of violence. As the bill states, this involves a person who "willfully causes 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 ..." 1. Also, it only applies to the perpetrator. It does not apply to someone who merely gave a speech that may have inflamed the perpetrator.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

This guarantees the right of every American, whether a clergyperson, or a member of the laity, or a person unaffiliated with any faith group to express hatred -- and even advocate genocide -- against any person or group of people with impunity. It is this Amendment that has protected:

bullet Rev. Fred Phelps and his web site.
bullet A well-known fundamentalist teleminister who advocated the execution of Wiccans and other Neopagans by stoning.
bullet A Baptist minister in Texas who advocated that the U.S. Army exterminate Wiccans with the use of napalm.
bullet Merrill Keiser, Jr., a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006, who was reported as having advocated making homosexual behavior a felony, punishable by death.

To our knowledge, none of these have been prosecuted for hate speech. 4

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Religious and social conservatives have often attempted to link hate crime bills with Canadian and Swedish laws restricting hate speech. They ignore the fact that Swedish and Canadian Christians who have been charged with homophobic hatred and bigotry crimes were not charged under hate-crime legislation. They ran afoul of their country's hate-speech laws.
bullet The hate propaganda" section of the Criminal Code of Canada (Section 319) severely limits hate-speech directed at heterosexuals, bisexuals, gays, and lesbians. However, it contains an exclusion clause that prevents the law from being applied if the hate speech was motivated by religious belief. It is only when someone advocates genocide in a religious setting that a prosecution can be made.
bullet Sweden severely limits hate-speech which verbally attacks persons on the basis of their sexual orientation. Their law applies in both religious and secular settings.

Neither example applies to the U.S.  The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects hate speech. Any hate speech law would be immediately challenged in court and found unconstitutional.

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Concern #5: The bill is not needed.

Rev. Lou Sheldon, of the fundamentalist Christian Traditional Values Coalition wrote:

"States already have the resources to deal with crimes of bodily harm or assault, etc. There are no cases of bodily injury that the states have not been able to investigate and prosecute." 5

They overlook the main rationale behind the bill: that hate crimes are very different from other assaults and attempted murders. They are generally perpetrated by strangers with the intent of terrorizing not just one victim but an entire community that shares one factor in common with the immediate victim: e.g. all women or a sexual, racial, or religious group.

Religious and social conservatives often point to the FBI statistics like those shown above. They indicate that there fewer than 1,000 instances of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation per year in an adult population of over 200 million. The overlook the fact that gay bashing is a vastly under-reported crime. Surveys of gay and lesbian adults have shown that about 5 million (circa 40%) have been the victims of gay bashing. Not included in that data are the number of heterosexual persons who were assaulted because they were perceived as gay.

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Related essays:

bullet Coverage of the 2009 hate crime bill by the conservative media
bullet U.S. hate-crimes statistics
bullet Specific quotations by religious and social conservatives on the 2007 bill

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References used:

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

  1. "Hate Crime Statistice 2005," FBI, 2006-OCT, at:
  2.  Calculations are:
    bullet Based on the FBI hate crime report for 2005, and a adult population of 217.8 million.
    bullet It is based on the assumption that 92% of U.S. adults are heterosexual, 5% are homosexual and 3% are bisexual. Some religious and social conservatives believe that the percentage of homosexuals is much lower; many do not fully recognize the existence of bisexuals. Some gay-positive groups believe that the percentage is much higher.
    bullet We assume that all victims were adults -- 18 years or older.
  3. "H.R. 1582," text, at:
  4. "US Senate Candidate Wants Death Penalty for Homosexuals," WTOL-TV Toledo, 2006-APR-24, at:
  5. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "The so-called Hate Crimes bill is very dangerous to your rights ..." Traditional Values Coalition mailing, 2007-APR-16.

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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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