Pennsylvania Court Overturns Hate Crimes Expansion Tacked Onto Agricultural Bill
By John Connolly
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, November 16, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Pennsylvania Commonwealth court struck down a hate crimes law on Thursday, citing a procedural violation of the state constitution in the bill’s passage through the legislation.
Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins wrote the opinion of a 4-1 majority, ruling against the 2002 measure to expand hate crimes law to include homosexuals as a victim group. The court struck down the law because the provision violated Article III of the state Constitution, which prohibits a bill’s alteration during its passage through the legislature if the bill’s original purpose is changed.
The bill started as a measure against agricultural vandalism, and was changed by the state legislature into a hate crimes bill designed to make it illegal for anybody to protest public homosexual activities and celebrations. The law was used to persecute anybody who stood in the way of the homosexual agenda, redefining peaceful protest by Christians as hate crime.
Eleven Christians of the evangelical group Repent America were arrested due to that same law in 2004 for reading the Bible and singing hymns at Outfest, a homosexual rally. Though the case was eventually dropped, Repent America filed legal action in 2005 against the act, citing its unconstitutional nature.
Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America and plaintiff in the case culminating in Thursday’s ruling and one of the eleven who were arrested, expressed worry over hate crimes legislation on a national scope.
"It’s been an example of what will happen if we have a Federal hate crimes law," Marcavage said. "These laws are unnecessary, as we already have laws governing people who are violent to other people. There’s an agenda behind these laws, and it is to outlaw Christianity."
When asked what citizens can do to prevent this agenda from being realized, Marcavage emphasized the importance of prayer. "We’re pretty sure they’re going to try to bring this legislation back," he said. He went on to say that the Federal level is extremely important, as it will set the trend for state court systems. "We should be very vocal in calling on President Bush to veto Senate bill 1585, and the hate crimes amendment of that bill." Marcavage referred to amendment 2067 of that bill.
Marcavage and Repent America were not the first to challenge the bill based on its unconstitutionality. Diane Gramley, President of the American Family Association in Pennsylvania and Fran Bevan, president of Eagle Forum of Pennsylvania both filed similar lawsuits six months after the bill was signed into law, only to have their cases denied in July 2005 because neither Gramley nor Bevan were ruled to have legal standing in the case.
"I’m ecstatic that this has been struck down," Bevan told LifeSiteNews. She also said that the law is a violation of Pennsylvania law, and is happy to see the constitution abided by.
"As former plaintiffs, Fran Bevan and I are very happy," said Gramley. "This is a clear message to legislators that we have a constitution and that they need to follow it."
Although the Pennsylvania legislature has not announced whether or not they will appeal to the state supreme court, many parties expect them to. Governor Edward G. Rendell said in an official statement that he is still committed to passing the hate crimes legislation.
"It’s important to note that the Commonwealth Court’s decision was based on a procedural issue and not on the substance of the amendment," he said. "I urge the General Assembly to immediately pass appropriate legislation to fully reinstate this important statute, which originally was enacted with bipartisan support."
See previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Senate Democrats Sneak "Hate Crimes" Bill into Crucial Defense Bill
CWA Claims Fake "Hate Crimes" Being Used to Force Legislation through Congress
Casey Ran as "Pro-Life"; His First Act Seeks "Sexual Orientation" Hate Crime Law
Judge drops ‘Hate Crimes’ Charge against ‘Philly 5’ for Preaching at Gay Festival