July 20, 2009
Hate Crimes Legislation Moves Forward
The Senate voted July 16 to close discussion and attach the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as an amendment to the Department of Defense Act. The act would add sexual orientation to the category of hate crimes, and the House pass a similar version earlier this year. Changes can still be proposed today, according to the Associated Press.
Because the act is attached to the larger Department of Defense (DOD) spending bill, the entire bill still has to be discussed in a conference committee for both the House and Senate in order to produce a final version. The Washington Times writes about the legislationâ€™s past failures:
Senate Democrats have pushed the hate-crimes legislation since 1993 and successfully added it to two of the past three defense authorization bills, though both times it was removed in negotiating a final version with the House.
Emboldened by having a Democrat in the White House, supporters are optimistic it will make it to Mr. Obama's desk this year.
Because the act is attached to a DOD bill which contains extra funding for F-22s that President Obama has publicly opposed, proponents of the act are expressing concern that even if the bill comes out of committee with the act intact, the president might veto it despite his support for hate crimes legislation.
Conservative Christian groups have opposed the addition of sexual orientation to hate crimes legislation since similar acts were proposed beginning in 1993 because they are concerned that the law could make it difficult for pastors to speak out against homosexuality.
However, other groups do not think the bill poses a threat to freedom of speech. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an organization that backs the legislation, hate crimes deserve special definition because they damage both the individual and â€œa whole community.â€ In response to concerns about free speech, the HRC says:
Nothing in this act would prohibit the lawful expression of oneâ€™s deeply held religious beliefs. People will always be free to say things like: â€œHomosexuality is sinfulâ€; â€œHomosexuality is an abominationâ€; or â€œHomosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.â€ The act would only cover violent actions committed because of a personâ€™s sexual orientation that result in death or bodily injury.
See Christianity Todayâ€™s earlier story for more details.