Friday, April 27, 2007

House Judiciary Committee Approves Hate Crimes Bill After Rejecting Proposed Amendments

The House Judiciary Committee met yesterday to mark up H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. A major purpose of the bill is to add to the definition of hate crimes those motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. (See prior postings 1, 2.) Numerous amendments suggested in committee were defeated. Among the amendments rejected was one proposed by Indiana Representative Mike Pence providing: "Nothing in this section limits the religious freedom of any person or group under the constitution." This amendment was aimed at the concern expressed by some conservative Christians-- and said by proponents to be unfounded-- that the bill could be used to chill religiously-based criticism of gays and lesbians. Proposals to add unborn and partially born babies as protected classes under the Act also were rejected. Details of the committee's lengthy session are reported in articles by Baptist Press, the Traditional Values Coalition and LifeSiteNews. A video of the mark-up session is available on the Judiciary Committee's website.

After the Judiciary Committee's 10-hour session, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 20-14. A statement by committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. pointed out that the bill is has 137 cosponsors and is supported by more than 230 civil rights, education, religious, and civic organizations. Other provisions in the bill provide assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting violent hate crimes.