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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Myths about The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill

The Senate vote to expand federal hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation is coming up (see my past post - The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill) and David Gibson at Politics Daily has this post - Preaching the Gospel Would be Against the Law! (And Other Hate Crimes Myths). He mentions a number of perpetrated untruths about the bill, myths, and his whole article is worth a read, but I thought I'd just paste what he had as the #1 myth and his response to it ......


Myth No. 1: Religious persecution is around the corner.

In June, 60 religious conservatives sent a letter asking senators to filibuster the bill, which they said "would criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the cross-hairs." The letter was signed by the likes of James Dobson of Focus On The Family, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, and Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America. Many Republicans, including Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, agreed with them.

After the House passed the bill on Oct. 8, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council renewed the charges, saying the legislation is an Orwellian "thought-crimes bill" that would give "special rights" to homosexuals. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota echoed that, saying that "any pastor, preacher, priest, rabbi or imam who gives a sermon out of their moral traditions about sexual practices could be found guilty of a federal crime."

But the bill in fact expressly prohibits any such thing, and at several points reaffirms all First Amendment and other constitutional protections on free speech and religious freedom. Among other things it says:

"Nothing in this division, or an amendment made by this division, shall be construed or applied in a manner that infringes any rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Nor shall anything in this division, or an amendment made by this division, be construed or applied in a manner that substantially burdens a person's exercise of religion (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), speech, expression, or association..."

[The full text of the bill can be found here, near the bottom of the National Defense Authorization Act.]

Every earlier draft of this bill had some version of this language, though when the measure went to a House-Senate conference committee to iron out wording differences between the two, the conferees added a condition. It said nothing in the law would impinge on religious freedom unless prosecutors can demonstrate that the speech was "intended to: (A) plan or prepare for an act of physical violence; or (B) incite an imminent act of physical violence against another."

The "conditional" language set off more alarm bells for conservatives, but the additions were in reality designed to reinforce the point that a hate crimes bill deals with crime, not speech. It is about acts that have been committed or are about to be committed. As the folks at wrote: "Speaking disapprovingly of homosexuals from the pulpit would be one thing; encouraging one's congregation to form a lynching posse Saturday at 4 p.m. at the water tower is quite another."

Moreover, the Constitution has never provided a blanket protection on speech. FactCheck also cited the 1919 case of Schenck v. United States, in which the Supreme Court unanimously held that free speech doesn't mean you can "falsely shout fire in a theater" and thereby cause a stampede. As Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, "The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger."'s "Truth-O-Meter" also judged the accusations of threats to free speech and religious protections as "false."


I'm unaware of any Catholic Church representatives who have spoken out in favor of the hate crimes bill (the US Bishops are taking no position and the Catholic League is against it) so I'll quote (from my past post) what Jim Wallis of Sojourners had to say about it ....

A fundamental Christian belief is that every person is created in the image of God. Too often in our country when violence has been directed against gay and lesbian people, most Christians have been painfully silent. The hate crimes legislation now in the House is designed to strengthen our society's ability to prosecute these crimes. It contains additional explicit protection for free speech and religious liberty, rights which are already guaranteed by our Constitution, and allows for continued free expression of speech about controversial issues around homosexuality, gay marriage, etc. Regardless of the theological differences we may have on these issues, Christians should all agree on the fundamental protection of human rights. That is why I support this legislation.


Blogger Mike L said...

I am in favor of passing this bill, but have to admit to some worry. Just as some misuse Scripture to generate hate, I am afraid that some will also try to use this law to attack those that preach a gospel that is not to their liking.

Sadly, it seems that man has great talents when it comes to misusing something that should be used for good.


Mike L

7:26 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

But the bill is explicit that speech, even hateful speech, will not come under the bill, only actions.

Beyond that issue, I have to wonder just what gospel would even allow for preaching hate.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Right off the top of my head I can come up with at least two from the Bible: hatred of Jews and hatred of homosexuals. I think that Biblical Scripture has also been used as a basis of hatred of Catholics and of Protestants as well.

Note that I am not saying that Scripture really supports these hates, only that man has the capability to twist them around to match what he wants to believe or to promote.

There is always the danger that a minister that is simply stating his religious beliefs will be charged with inciting a riot. And there will probably be some people that really believe he was inciting a lynch mob, or at least will claim such.

And then there will be the minister that is trying to provoke a lynch mob who will claim protection under "religious freedom". Sigh!

So, I think that there are legitimate worries, but I don't think that there are sufficient to kill the bill. I can only hope that there are a sufficient number of reasonable judges that abuse will be kept to a minimum. Pass the bill, and if there are too many abuses, revise it.

8:17 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah, I meant that the anti-homosexual stuff wasn't in the gospels, but there is anti-Jewish sentiment there. Jesus never seemed to get mad at anyone but religious authorities - why is it we never hear preaching against them? :)

Still, I just cringe at the idea of protecting a possible right to preach hate.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but the Gospels clearly state that though we have been freed from the condemnation by the Law, that the Law is Holy and good and shows us what IS sin, including homosexuality. Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. He said so. Homosexuality being a sin was part of that Law.

5:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Also part of the law .... not eating shellfish, not charging interest on loans, stoning adulterers, etc. We disregard many parts of the Law. Love trumps the Law.

5:26 PM  

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