By Kathleen Gilbert
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 29, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - President Obama has issued a statement urging Congress to pass federal "hate crimes" legislation as legislators prepare to consider the controversial H.R. 1913 bill today.
"I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance - legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association," said Obama in a statement released yesterday.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009 would grant the federal government special authority to punish crimes that appear to be motivated by "hatred" of a person’s sexual orientation, on a par with other characteristics such as race and religion.
Responding to fears among the religious community, supporters say the bill poses no threat to the free speech rights of religious leaders and individuals. Advocates point to a clause that states the bill does not "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."
However, pro-family advocates say that under current federal law, statements criticizing homosexuality could be prosecuted as accessory to a "hate crime" if it appears to have motivated a violent act. Because of this, the bill has been criticized as apt to chill free speech.
The Judiciary Committee last week rejected a proposal by Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, which would have ensured that ministers could not be prosecuted for abetting a "hate crime" simply because they preached the Christian perspective on homosexuality.
"Because penalties already exist for those who commit criminal acts, HR 1913 serves only to punish individuals for the beliefs, opinions, or convictions held at the time an act is committed," noted Liberty University law professor Shawn Akers. "As such, HR 1913 does not punish criminal intent, but criminalizes thought."
Greg Quinlan, president of the Pro-Family Network and a former homosexual, wrote in a recent column for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) that he believes the bill has dire ramifications for the "ex-gay" community. As it is, says Quinlan, former homosexuals are frequently harassed and prevented from discussing their path away from the homosexual lifestyle in public forums, because their message is perceived as "intimidating" to homosexuals.
As an example, Quinlan described his confrontation with Wayne Besen, former spokesperson for the homosexualist Human Rights Campaign, while staffing the exhibit booth at the Ex-Gay Educators Caucus.
"Besen stuck his finger in my face and called me a ‘f***ing faggot," "f***ng c***s*cker," "nellie fairy," etc," wrote Quinlan. "‘You’re still having gay sex,’ he yelled at me. We had to call security to remove him because we were scared for our safety."
"Hate against ex-gays like me is all too common," Quinlan wrote. "What will happen when Congress passes a Hate Crimes Prevention Act for gays?
"With their hate officially protected by law, homosexuals will determine heterosexuality by censoring ex-gay speech or behavior they disagree with as ‘hateful,’ ‘discriminatory,’ ‘intimidation,’ ‘dangerous,’ or ‘leading to physical violence.’" he explained. "We know because this is what they already label us."
Capitol Hill switchboard:
To find your U.S. representative:
Family Research Council petition against "hate crimes" legislation:
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Free Speech Concerns Ignored as "Hate Crimes" Bill Passes Fed. Judiciary Committee