AFA Takes on Urban-Legends Web Site

For years, Snopes.com has been an invaluable online resource for those wondering whether commonly-told but improbable anecdotes they’ve heard have any truth to them. The famous story of the woman who was charged $250 for a cookie recipe by Neiman Marcus, the one about suicidal lemmings, and whether the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the moon – these are typical fare for the site. Now, you can add to that list the far-right assertion that the hate-crimes bill would throw pastors in jail for preaching that homosexuality is a sin.

That claim has been a mainstay of opposition to the hate-crimes bill. “Pastors … prepare for jail” warned Janet Folger. Rick Scarborough said it would “criminalize biblical preaching.” Chuck Colson said, “It’s not even about crime. It’s about outlawing peaceful speech -- speech that asserts that homosexual behavior is morally wrong.” Of course, as we have explained many times, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act targets violent crimes causing bodily injury, and does not have anything to do with constitutionally protected speech or religious practice.

Nevertheless, the American Family Association repeats the claim, asserting in a recent action alert that the bill “would criminalize negative comments concerning homosexuality, such as calling the practice of homosexuality a sin from the pulpit, a “hate crime” punishable by a hefty fine and time in prison. This dangerous legislation would take away our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion.”

Snopes.com received the e-mail and looked into its assertions, concluding, “This claim, as well as the Action Alert's bulleted references to court cases, news items, and current legislation, are gross and misleading distortions of information.” In particular:

The bill addresses "willfully causing bodily injury to any person" (as well as "attempts to cause bodily injury to any person") because of "actual or perceived ... gender, sexual orientation, [or] gender identity." The bill does not "criminalize negative comments concerning homosexuality," nor would it make "calling the practice of homosexuality a sin from the pulpit a 'hate crime'." The bill has nothing to do with the issue of speech; it only prescribes criminal penalties for the willful infliction of bodily injury on others. In fact, the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives on 3 May 2007 includes a clause that specifically precludes it from applying to conduct protected by the free speech and free exercise of religion provisions of the Constitution[.]

Now, AFA has responded, purporting to refute the popular urban-legends web site.

American Family Association remains steadfast in our claim that if this bill passes, we are confident that liberal judges will rush to make it a federal crime to publicly criticize the homosexual lifestyle.

We remain adamantly opposed to this dangerous legislation that could lay the groundwork for persecution of Christians in America. But even more chilling is the fact that S. 1105 and H.R.1592 pave the way to religious persecution – with “hate crimes” laws inevitably leading to “hate speech” laws targeted specifically at Christians and other faith groups who hold traditional beliefs on homosexuality.

While AFA doesn’t directly address the requirement that the crime involve “bodily injury,” the group refers to a summary of the bill from the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund, which suggests that, contrary to the specificity of the term, “bodily injury” can mean “mental anguish.” ADF also suggests ignoring the section of the bill that explicitly excludes constitutionally protected speech and religious practice.