Wednesday February 3, 2010

Lawsuit Filed Challenging Constitutionality of Fed. Hate Crimes Law

By Peter J. Smith

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, February 3, 2010 ( – A federal lawsuit has been filed in US District Court challenging the constitutionality of new federal hate crimes legislation on behalf of several Christian pastors and a pro-family organization, who charge the law would chill their right to speak out against homosexuality.

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan challenging the hate crimes law and naming U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a defendant.

The “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” allows federal prosecutors to file special charges for crimes in which a perpetrator is thought to be motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

“This new federal law promotes two Orwellian concepts,” said Robert Muise, the TMLC Senior Trial Counsel in charge of the case. “It creates a special class of persons who are ‘more equal than others’ based on nothing more than deviant, sexual behavior. And it creates ‘thought crimes’ by criminalizing certain ideas, beliefs, and opinions, and the involvement of such ideas, beliefs, and opinions in a crime will make it deserving of federal prosecution.

“Consequently, government officials are claiming the power to decide which thoughts are criminal under federal law and which are not.”

TMLC filed the suit on behalf of Pastor Levon Yuille, Pastor Rene Ouellette, Pastor James Combs, and Gary Glenn, the president of the American Family Association of Michigan (AFA-Michigan). The plaintiffs say the legislation would have an intimidating effect on their ministries and other Christians expressing Bible-based injunctions against the homosexual lifestyle.

Their lawyers argue this fear is not unreasonable: a federal criminal statute declares that anyone who “aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures” the commission of an offense under the law would be as liable for prosecution as the actual perpetrator. Thus, they say, pastors could end up accused as accessories to hate crimes, if prosecutors deemed they had an influence on an individual charged with such a crime.

In addition, some homosexual advocates appear to expect such an application: Jeff Montgomery, former executive director of the pro-homosexual Triangle Foundation, told the Saginaw News in April 2005 that Christian leaders who spoke out against homosexuality “should be held accountable as accessories to these hate crimes.”

“Many times, it is their rhetoric that led the perpetrators to believe that their crimes are OK,” Montgomery said. “If a criminal borrows a gun and then uses it to kill someone, the law considers the gun owner an accessory to the crime. So, too, are the people who own the words that incite violence.”

Critics also took issue with the premise of the legislation, which they say is superfluous to the prosecution of violent crimes.

“There is no legitimate law enforcement need for this federal law,” stated TMLC President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson. “Of the 1.38 million violent crimes reported in the U.S. by the FBI in 2008, only 243 were considered as motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.”

“The sole purpose of this law is to criminalize the Bible and use the threat of federal prosecutions and long jail sentences to silence Christians from expressing their Biblically-based religious belief that homosexual conduct is a sin,” said Thompson.

TMLC attorneys, like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, also object that the law would unjustly expose individuals acquitted of hate crimes in their states to a second trial by federal prosecutors.

Read here the TMLC Complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan