Religious Right in a Froth Over Hate Crimes Legislation

Teetering between irascibility and irrelevance, spokespersons for a number of conservative Christian outfits are warning that on Wednesday, April 22, Christians will once again be victimized by perpetrators of the gay agenda, and life—as they know it—will change forever. That is the day that the House Judiciary Committee considers hate crimes legislation that would finally confer on sexual orientation the same legal status as race and religion.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913) that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability, will be introduced by the committee chairman, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the same legislation that passed the House (H.R. 1592) in 2007 by a 237-180 vote.

The legislation, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Rob Boston:

is intended to do a few key things: It would allow the US Justice Department to offer assistance when a crime that results in death or serious injury is committed against any American because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  

The federal government could even prosecute such cases if local officials were unwilling to do so …. reflect[ing] statutes from the Civil Rights era that gave the federal government a greater role in battling crimes against African Americans in the Jim Crow South and also allowed the Justice Department to address the denial of voting rights. It’s nothing new.  

The bill also would also make some federal money available to for law enforcement training. It would help police officers recognize bias-motivated violence and combat it, especially among young people.

 

While opposition arguments are abundant, they mainly focus on the issues of religious liberty and free speech: expanded hate crimes legislation could subject clergy that quote scripture and speak out against homosexuality from the pulpit, to be penalized, perhaps even arrested and dragged out of their churches. “The idea of being prosecuted for reading Scripture may seem delirious, but it is just as crazy to think it couldn’t happen,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue.

The problem in general with hate crimes legislation is that it invites the government to probe way beyond motive. And in instances like this, it trespasses on free speech and religious liberty. This is a road no defender of liberty should ever want to go down.  

In an “Action Alert” sent out by the American Family Association, Donald Wildmon states:  

America’s most basic freedoms of speech, conscience and the free exercise of religion are under attack and the time to act is now. If President Obama succeeds with his priority of passing the Hate Crimes law, H.R. 1913 – the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, it could lead to the criminalization of the Biblical view of homosexuality in sermons and elsewhere. An offended homosexual could accuse a pastor, Sunday School teacher of broadcaster of causing emotional injury simply by expressing the Biblical view that homosexuality is sinful. [sic] 

 

“All freedom loving Americans must voice their opposition to this bill,” said Dr. Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. “If this bill passes it lays the foundation for censoring Christians. In other countries, Like in Canada and Sweden, where these types of hate crime laws have been implemented, pastors and Christians have been jailed and fined for their faithful adherence to the biblical values.”  

Others argue that the inclusion of sexual orientation is superfluous. “Hate crime laws that include sexual orientation are a bad idea, because they elevate homosexuality to the same status as race and do nothing to prevent violent crimes,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “All crimes are motivated by hate. Hate crimes laws will not be used to punish the perpetrators but will be used to silence people of faith, religious groups, clergy and those who support traditional moral values.”  

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council Action, said the legislation “gives one set of crime victims a higher level of protection than it gives to (others). All people deserve to be protected from crime, not just certain groups,” he said.  

In a recent bulletin, the Family Research Council told pastors: “Let’s say you preach from Genesis 19 or Romans 1, referencing the homosexual agenda or lifestyle. Your sermon could be heard by an individual who applies it in a way prohibited by a hate crimes law. Not only would the offender be prosecuted under this law, but you could also be prosecuted for conspiracy. Consequently, hate crimes laws would radically impact our freedom of speech as Christians.”  

Not so, according Becky Dansky, federal legislative director for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. Dansky told the Washington Blade that those claims are “completely inaccurate, unless their priest or reverend or religious leader is physically assaulting someone based on their sexual orientation while they’re giving that sermon.”

Again, Rob Boston: “What is the Religious Right’s evidence for these extravagant claims? It doesn’t have any.” Boston goes on to point out that hundreds of religious leaders have signed a statement in support of the legislation, here.

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