Thursday, April 23, 2009

Markup of Hate Crimes Bill Begins, Amid Opposition By Some Christian Groups

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee began the mark-up of HR 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Among other things, the bill will extend coverage to certain crimes committed because of a person's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It will also increase assistance to state and local governments in fighting hate crimes. The Advocate reports that Republican Congressmen opposed to passage of the bill offered a large number of amendments, all of which were defeated. One amendment proposed adding "unborn child" to the definition of those against whom Hate Crimes might be perpetrated. Another amendment proposed adding "pregnant women." Rep. Steve King of Iowa suggested changing the bill's name to the "Local Law Enforcement Thought Crimes Prevention Act of 2009."

Some Christian groups are again this year raising the spectre that the bill, if enacted, would infringe the right of Christian ministers to oppose homosexuality. For example, Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, called the bill "a backdoor tool from the far left and radical homosexuals to shut down legitimate free speech from Christians and others who oppose their lifestyle." ICC argued that the federal aiding and abetting statute (18 USC 2) could allow prosecution of those "who teach that homosexual behavior is sinful and that Islam is a false religion." A release issued by Americans United this week counters the argument, saying:
The bill penalizes assault and physical violence, not speech. In fact, the legislation makes it clear that free speech is protected. Section 10 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."
UPDATE: CQ reports that on Thursday (4/23), the House Judiciary Committee approved the Hate Crimes bill by a vote of 15-12. The Committee defeated more than a dozen proposed Republican amendments to the bill.