By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 7, 2009 ( – Catholic League President Bill Donohue issued an open letter yesterday to the U.S. Senate urging legislators to include protection for religious leaders preaching against homosexuality in the newly-introduced “hate crimes” legislation.  Donohue added his voice to criticism from other conservative leaders who warn that the measure’s current form threatens to chill free speech and give special protection to all forms of sexual deviancy including pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism.

A version of the bill passed the House last week 249-175.

“The driving force behind the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act is the desire to provide additional penalties to criminals who assault homosexuals because of their sexual orientation,” wrote Donohue, referring to the legislation recently introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy and Patrick Leahy. 

Setting aside the “propriety of hate crimes legislation in general,” Donohue said, “the central problem with this bill is its chilling effect on religious speech.”
“To be specific, the bill would criminalize religious speech that was critical of homosexuality if it were linked to a crime against a gay person.” he continued.  “How do I know this? Because when the bill was considered in the House, that is exactly what Rep. Louie Gohmert was told when he raised this issue.

“While assaulting anyone, independent of sexual orientation, is rightly considered a criminal offense, the prospect of criminalizing religious speech that proscribes certain sexual practices is beyond worrisome-it is downright dangerous.”

Donohue pointed out that the bill’s potential to chill free speech among clergy addressing sinful behavior “flies in the face of the spirit of the First Amendment.”

“Surely there are ways to protect homosexuals from being singled out by anti-gay thugs without trespassing on the constitutional rights of priests, ministers, rabbis, imams and others,” he wrote.  The Catholic League president concluded by urging the Senate to include an amendment to the bill that would protect the speech rights of religious leaders. 

Earlier in the debate Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.) also voiced a concern shared by many conservatives, that the term “sexual orientation” remains undefined in the bill, which he says opens the legislation up to a broad interpretation.  While there exists in law a strict definition of sexual orientation, Gohmert objected, “there is nothing in this bill that references the definitions in the Hate Crimes Statistical Act…it’s not there. We asked that it be added so we could get a specific definition. It is not there.”

Gohmert claimed that the lack of a definition left only “the plain meaning” of the term “sexual orientation,” which he says could include “anything to which someone is orientated” – essentially protecting all forms of sexual aberration.

The Family Research Council is sponsoring a petition against the federal hate crimes bill (go to:

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See related coverage:

U.S. House Passes Sexual Orientation “Hate Crimes” Bill

Obama Urges House of Representatives to Pass Sexual Orientation “Hate Crimes” Bill

Free Speech Concerns Ignored as “Hate Crimes” Bill Passes Fed. Judiciary Committee