Let the Hate Crimes Freak-Out Begin

I’ve been away for the last several days and am trying to catch up on what has been going on.  And, judging by the dozens of right-wing statements that are clogging my reader and inbox, it seems as if the end of the world is at hand because the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark-up H.R. 1913, otherwise known as the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.”

For the Religious Right, issuing dire warnings about hate crimes legislation has been a standard practice for years and this time around is no different, which is why we have made it the focus of our current Right Wing Watch In Focus:

Hate crimes are violent attacks on people who are targeted because of who they are.   Thousands of Americans are physically attacked every year because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, or disability.  These crimes are meant to intimidate entire communities.   The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act – also known as the federal hate crimes bill – would direct federal resources to help local law enforcement fight violent hate crimes, and would let federal law enforcement step in when locals don’t.   Similar legislation passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support during the last session, but never made it to the president’s desk.

Religious Right leaders are vehemently opposed to federal hate crimes laws in large measure because they resist any legal recognition of LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender).   They know that most Americans support hate-crimes legislation, anti-discrimination laws, and legal protection for gay couples.  So they create confusion by portraying these steps toward equality as dire threats to religious liberty.   This is part of a larger political strategy by Religious Right leaders to advance their policy goals and mobilize supporters with alarmist claims that Christians in America are on the verge of being jailed for their religious beliefs.

As we have noted before, there’s a dangerously cynical motive at the core of this strategy.  It is easier to convince Americans to support discrimination – even to oppose laws designed to discourage violent hate crimes – if you have first convinced them that their gay neighbors want to shut down their church and throw their pastor in jail for reading the Bible.

One of the Right’s favorite tropes is that, if such legislation passes, it will silence Christians and all those who speak out in opposition to homosexuality and will lead to pastors getting tossed in prison and churches getting shut down by the government.  Of course, none of that is true:

The federal hate crimes law doesn’t create something called a “thought” crime or somehow create “special rights” for a particular group of people.  It strengthens law enforcement’s ability to fight violent crime – not vigorous debate, not sermons against homosexuality, not hateful speech, not the infamous “God hates fags” protesters, not the spreading of misinformation that thrives on constitutionally protected right-wing television, radio, and blogosphere. 

Conservatives often say they want judges to focus on exactly what a law says.  Well, here’s exactly what the law says:

"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."

Another section of the law makes it clear that federal courts could not rely on evidence of a person’s outlook or statements to convict someone of a hate crime unless those expressions were directly related to the commission of the violent crime in question:

“In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or association of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing the impeachment of a witness."

Could it be any clearer that this has nothing to do with silencing preachers or punishing thoughts, and everything to do with discouraging and prosecuting violent hate crimes? 

But just because the Right’s claims are wildly untrue doesn’t mean they are going to stop making them, as evidenced by the fact that that they are making them once again.

Vision America:

It is imperative that we contact all members of the House and demand that they vote against this bill as it will not protect a pastor, Bible teacher, Sunday School teacher, youth leader or anyone else from prosecution if he or she teaches against homosexuality if an individual who hears their message then goes out and commits a crime against a homosexual.. The pastor or teacher could face prosecution for using "hate speech" and "conspiracy to commit a hate crime."

Focus on the Family:

Under "hate-crimes" laws like H.R. 1913, pastors could be prosecuted for preaching the biblical view of homosexuality. Similar laws have been used to prosecute religious speech in the U.S. at the state level and abroad.

"The homosexual activists' mantra is no longer tolerance — it's embrace and promote," said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst at Focus on the Family Action. "Anything less will be silenced. Christians must speak up."

Family Research Council:

The act would establish a new FEDERAL offense for so-called "hate crimes" and add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classes.  It will mandate a separate federal criminal prosecution for state offenses.

Adding "sexual orientation" to thought crimes legislation gives one set of crime victims a higher level of protection than it gives to people like you and me.

Concerned Women for America:

[E]xpanding "hate crimes" to include "sexual orientation" and gender identity could put people with traditional values directly in the crosshairs of official government policy.  "Hate crimes" laws place us on a slippery slope toward religious persecution. These laws are already being employed as a tool in Brazil, Europe, Canada -- and even right here in America -- to intimidate and silence people who honor natural human sexuality and who value the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman.  If a person speaks out against various sexual behaviors, that person may be accused of "hate speech," which could lead to an accusation of associations with "hate crimes."

Liberty Counsel:

H.R. 1913 is not about stopping crime but is designed to give sexual preference the same legal status as race. This legislation is just a stepping stone to regulate the speech of people who support family values.

Matt Barber:

[I]f H.R. 1913 becomes law, actual violence or injury need not take place for a “hate crime” to occur. For example, if a group of Christians are at a “gay pride” parade and a one of them gently places his hand on a homosexual’s shoulder and shares that there is freedom from homosexuality through a relationship with Jesus Christ, then, voila, we have a battery and, consequently, a felony “hate crime.”

But the Christian needn’t even touch the homosexual. If the homosexual merely claims he was subjectively placed in “apprehension of bodily injury” by the Christian’s words then, again, the Christian can be thrown in prison for a felony “hate crime.”

And, never to be outdone when it comes to issuing over the top warnings about the dangers posed by the “homosexual agenda,” the Traditional Values Coalition has gone into overdrive, releasing various pieces that declare that Christians are going to get tossed into jail by legislation is designed to protect pedophiles, necrophiliacs, and those who engage in bestiality:

HR 1913 targets mainstream religious people for prosecution because their sincerely-held religious beliefs and centuries of theology inform them that homosexuality is a disordered behavior and a sin.  Just expressing that belief will amount to a crime under this bill and pastors across America will be risking their freedom to quote certain passages of the Bible from their pulpits.

This hate crimes bill creates that climate with its chilling effect on the First Amendment’s “free exercise” of  religion, taking rights away from one group of citizens in a phony ploy to protect another group of citizens from a contrived threat.

The main purpose of this legislation is to elevate homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender identity to race. H.R. 1913 will add the categories of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” “either actual or perceived,” as new classes of individuals receiving special protection by federal law. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Gender identity includes such gender confused behaviors as cross-dressing, transvestism and such conditions as transsexualism.

The so-called hate crimes bill will be used to lay the legal foundation and framework to investigate, prosecute and persecute pastors, business owners, Bible teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, Christian counselors, religious broadcasters and anyone else whose actions are based upon and reflect the truths found in the Bible.

H.R. 1913 broadly defines “intimidation. A pastor’s sermon could be considered “hate speech” under this legislation if heard by an individual who then acts aggressively against persons based on any “sexual orientation.” The pastor could be prosecuted for “conspiracy to commit a hate crime.”

The main purpose of this “hate crime” legislation is to add the categories of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” “either actual or perceived,” as new classes of individuals receiving special protection by federal law. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality on an ever-expanding continuum. Will Congress also protect these sexual orientations-zoophiles, pedophiles or polygamists?

Gender identity includes such gender confused behaviors as cross-dressing, she-male, drag queen, transvestite, transsexual or transgender. Under the Act, neither “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” are really defined. How can a law be enforced if the new classes receiving special protection remain undefined?

The sexual behaviors considered sinful and immoral by most major religions will be elevated to a protected “minority” class under federal law.

Once “sexual orientation” is added to federal law, anyone with a bizarre sexual orientation will have total protection for his or her activities by claiming that Congress sanctions their appearance, behavior or attitudes.

Inevitably this will negatively affect the performance of co-workers who are forced to work alongside of individuals with bizarre sex habits. Imagine working next to a person who gets sexual pleasure from rubbing up against a woman (Fronteurism) or enjoys wearing opposite sex clothing. These are “sexual orientations.”