On January 20, the White House Web site posted President Barack Obama’s Civil Rights agenda. Prominent among the broad range of items was one titled “Expand Hate Crimes Statutes,” in which the administration pledged to “strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.”
Over the past few years, hate-crimes legislation providing protection for gays and lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals have been proposed, discussed, passed by the House, and included in (though subsequently stripped from) the National Defense Authorization Act. It is expected that the 111th Congress will once again take up hate crimes legislation.
Among those on the front lines of the opposition will be Bishop Harry Jackson Jr.
Two years ago, Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., founder and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and author of several books, was one of several African American pastors who took out a full-page ad in USA Today titled “Don’t Muzzle Our Pulpits.”
Rev. Jackson claims that hate crimes legislation would “elevate the homosexual community to a protected class,” and “[put] their claim that they’re discriminated against into a real civil rights argument”:
And ultimately in every place around the world where this kind of legislation has been passed, we find that people have taken out lawsuits against preachers for preaching what the Bible says about sexuality and morality. And it is grounds for a kind of harassment that, I believe, will bring a cooling of our biblically-based messages.
Concerned that in an Obama administration hate crimes legislation will become the law, Jackson is urging Christians not “to be silent,” adding that “now is the time to lift our voice.”
Bishop Earns his Religious Right Stripes
Over the past few years, Bishop Jackson has become one of the religious right’s go-to guys: In 2004, the “registered Democrat” wholeheartedly supported George W. Bush for the presidency; the following year, he was the featured African-American speaker at the religious right’s highly publicized “Justice Sunday II” rally; in 2008 he not only supported the McCain/Palin ticket, but was a frequent and vocal supporter of California’s Proposition 8 and co-authored “Personal Faith Public Policy” with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins.
In late December, after then President-elect Barack Obama chose Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, the senior pastor of the 3000-member Hope Christian Church in Prince George’s County, Maryland, told the Washington Post that he was quite pleased by the choice:
I think Barack Obama’s selection of Rick Warren represents Barack Obama reaching out to both sides of the religious community. What I like about his reaching out is even though the evangelical community characterized him in some ways as the anti-Christ and all kind of things, he is going to try to find common ground.
The issue really is about the racial problems in America. What many white evangelicals don’t realize is that many blacks feel like there is a lot of racism and schism that were based in race and that had faith ramifications.
I have been involved a lot in the religious right that is often white-led and I found that there are many African Americans who are Bible based, Bible-believing who have as much in common with the white church as they do with their black neighbors. African Americans are smart enough to understand that there is difference between political party and faith.
A week later, Jackson told OneNewsNow that he was glad Warren hadn’t “cave[d] in” to the homosexual community: “We’re all pleasantly pleased that he brought up our issues, [that] he was an advocate for Bible truth. So, I think what you’re going to have in Warren is what you’ve had in Billy Graham.”
Cheerleaders for Hate Crimes Legislation
Religious right organizations have been opposing hate crimes legislation for years. In a recent column, Cliff Kincaid, the editor of Accuracy in Media, wrote that liberals “are cheerleaders for ‘hate crimes’ legislation, which mandate an inspection of one’s mental condition.” Some have maintained that such legislation could sweep up pastors preaching against homosexuality and charge them with a hate crime. Others argue that homosexuality should not be seen as a protected class—thereby sanctifying their sexuality—nor should homosexuals be afforded “special rights.”
Some claim that “hate crimes” legislation is redundant. In 2007, the Traditional Values Coalition’s Rev. Lou Sheldon 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.”
Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs at Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal organization, recently told OneNewsNow that “The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law. Hate crimes legislation is a prima facie violation of the Fourteenth Amendment in that it elevates one class of citizen based upon their chosen sexual behaviors above other people. It creates a two-tiered justice system where there are first-class victims and second-class victims.”
Other conservative Christian evangelical organizations, like the National Religious Broadcasters, have linked hate crimes legislation to efforts by liberals to re-impose the “fairness doctrine”; the NRB recently said that it was “girding itself for a major battle over broadcasting freedoms.” In his warning against an “impending flood tide” of attacks, the organization’s general counsel Craig Parshall listed amongst those attacks, the “reinvigoration of the so-called ‘fairness doctrine’; speech-suppression masquerading as hate-crimes legislation; employment regulations leaving little or no room for faith-based hiring decisions; and FCC regulations that would invade programming content decisions, such as localism mandates, adverse definitions of the ‘public interest’ obligation, and media reform rules that could disfavor Christian broadcasters,” Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton recently reported.
The same article explains that the fear among Christian broadcasters is that “The Fairness Doctrine… would require a broadcaster preaching about the evils of temptation to make airtime available to those preaching the virtues of sin, or indecency could depend on what kind of speech the reigning political majority found offensive.” The article concludes by saying that “religious broadcasters are also concerned that hate crimes legislation could suppress speech from the pulpit, like preaching on morals and values that might not square with some powerful politicians, say opposing homosexuality or branding Islam a false religion.”
An Attack on One’s Very Identity
The American Psychological Association has said about the hate crime that:
…Not only is it an attack on one’s physical self, but is also an attack on one’s very identity. Attacks upon individuals because of a difference in how they look, pray, or behave have long been a part of human history. It is only recently, however, that our society has given it a name and decided to monitor it, study it, and legislate against it.
The FBI defines a hate crime (a.k.a. bias crime) to be: “a criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.”
Public Law #103-322A, a 1994 federal law, defines a hate crime as:
A crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.
Directly addressing the concerns of those who claim that hate crime legislation would curtail free speech, People for the American Way pointed out that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 “only addresse[d] violent crimes causing ‘bodily injury’—not speech, not preaching.”
Hate Crime Statistics
According to a late-October 2008 report by the FBI, hate crimes against gays were up 6% in 2007 (from 2006), despite the fact that the overall number of hate crimes dropped slightly. USA Today reported that there were 7,624 hate crimes reported in 2007, down 1% from 2006. Crimes based on sexual orientation—1,265 in 2007—have been rising since 2005.
At around the same time, Coral Ridge Ministries aired a documentary titled “Hate Crime Laws,” which, according to WorldNetDaily was an “exposé… show[ing] how Christians in America, Canada, Australia, and Sweden have been arrested and prosecuted for expressing opinions that are rooted in the Bible regarding homosexual conduct, Islam, or other topics about which Scriptures express clear teachings.”
Jerry Newcombe, of Coral Ridge, said that “On the surface, hate crime laws might sound like a good idea. After all, none of us advocates hatred or violence against another person. But if you look below the surface, suddenly you realize that these laws are really thought crime laws.”
Obama’s Pledge to Work for Civil Rights of LGBT People
As a candidate for United States senator from Illinois… Obama announced that, as “an African-American man” and “a child of an interracial marriage,” he has “taken on the issue of civil rights for the LGBT community as if they were my own struggle because I believe strongly that the infringement of rights for any one group eventually endangers the rights enjoyed under law by the entire population.”
According to Stone, Obama said he had long been committed “to expand[ing] civil liberties for the LGBT community including hate-crimes legislation, adoption rights and the extension of basic civil rights to protect LGBT persons from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment, and credit.”
One thing that political observers agree on is that the Obama administration faces a formidable challenge. Acting quickly on his civil rights agenda will assure the two-million or so who attended the inauguration—and the many millions who watched at home, in theaters, at sports arenas, or at community viewing parties across the country—that the rights of all Americans will be protected. It may not be the most politic way to approach this new era of “We Are One,” but it will be the right thing to do.
The Reverend Joseph Lowery, a friend and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. and a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivered a stirring benediction at the Obama inauguration. He closed by evoking Micah: “Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.”
Bishop Jackson, can we get an amen?