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

LifeSiteNews.com

By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A divided House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted to send a federal "hate crimes" bill to the House, after free speech advocates failed to secure protection for pastors who might preach biblically-based injunctions against homosexual activity.

In a motion almost completely ignored by the mainstream media, the Judiciary Committee voted 15-12 to allow the hotly contested H.R. 1913, known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009, to go forward.

The measure would grant the federal government a new authority to prosecute any violent crime anywhere in the country that is perceived to be "motivated by prejudice" against a number of protected characteristics, including "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Christian leaders are particularly concerned that attempts to secure the right to speak against the homosexual lifestyle and its normalization have failed.  Among many rejected proposals for the bill was one offered by Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, which would have included a clause ensuring ministers could not be prosecuted for abetting a "hate crime" because they preached the Christian perspective on homosexuality. 

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the Congressman who introduced the bill, claimed the bill posed no danger to Christian free speech, saying that it "only applies to bias-motivated violent crimes and does not impinge public speech or writing in any way."  Section 10 of H.R. 1913 states: "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to 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."

Yet free speech advocates have pointed out that under current U.S. law, any action that "abets, counsels, commands, [or] induces" a perceived "hate crime" shares in the guilt of that crime, and is therefore punishable. 

The danger posed by the "hate crime" legislation to Christian ministers was confirmed when Congress considered practically identical legislation in 2007.  Then, Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., admitted during a hearing on the measure that it could be used to prosecute pastors for preaching the biblical perspective on homosexuality, given the perception that it may have "induced" a later hate crime.

"Just passing the legislation is going to result in pastors saying, ‘I’m not going to address this issue,’" the American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

In a Christian Post column Tuesday, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins issued a point-by-point explanation of the unprecedented dangers presented by the "hate crimes" bill. 

Perkins points out that H.R. 1913 violates the 14th amendment, which provides equal protection under the law, "by protecting some victims more than others."

"Do we somehow care less about a victim who is violently assaulted because of a robbery or personal dispute than we do about a victim who is assaulted because they belong in a federally protected category?" Perkins asked.

Also, says Perkins, the bill essentially "punishes thoughts and not just actions." 

"Advocates of the bill deny this because it only authorizes prosecution of someone who ‘willfully causes bodily injury’ or ‘attempts to cause bodily injury,’" he said.  "But such acts are already crimes under state law. What converts the acts targeted by this bill into a federal offense are the thoughts or opinions of the perpetrator alone.

"Since every violent crime manifests some sort of ‘hate,’ it makes more sense to think of this as a ‘thought crimes’ law."  (To read Perkins’ full column: http://www.christianpost.com/Opinion/Opinions/2009/04/why-congress-should-reject-federal-hate-crimes-bill-21/)

Matt Barber, a lawyer with the Liberty Counsel, commented: "As has proved to be true in both Europe and Canada, this Orwellian piece of legislation is the direct precursor to freedom killing and speech chilling ‘hate speech’ laws.

"It represents a thinly veiled effort to ultimately silence - under penalty of law - morally, medically and biblically based opposition to the homosexual lifestyle," said Barber.

According to House majority leader Steny Hoyer, the measure is due for consideration by the full House next week.

U.S. House of Representatives switchboard:
202-224-3121
To look up local U.S. Representatives:
http://www.congress.org

Related links:
FRC President Tony Perkins’ Christian Post column, "Why Congress Should Reject Federal Hate Crimes Bill": http://www.christianpost.com/Opinion/Opinions/2009/04/why-congress-should-reject-federal-hate-crimes-bill-21/

FRC petition against "hate crimes" legislation:
http://www.fighthatecrimes.com/

See previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Pro-Family Group Urges Congress to Oppose Federal "Hate Crimes" Bill Set for Committee Hearing Tomorrow
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/apr/09042114.html

Fed. Judiciary Committee to Examine Homosexualist "Hate Crimes" Bill Monday
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/apr/09041714.html

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