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Religious Tolerance logo

U.S. hate crime bills/laws

House hate-crimes bill H.R. 1592: (2007):
Judiciary Committee and House activity

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2007-APR-25: The bill exits the House Judiciary Committee:

As of mid-2007-APR, the bill was moving quickly. 1 The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on APR-17. The committee held a marathon markup session on APR-25 during which about 20 amendments were reviewed.  A full list of proposed amendments is available online. 8- Some were:

bulletDarrell Issa, (R-CA) suggested an amendment protecting embryos and fetuses.
bulletDan Lungren (R-CA) wanted a definition of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." A definition to the former term was offered, including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. However, other Republicans rejected it on the basis that they did not consider heterosexuality to be a sexual orientation.
bulletRandy Forbes (R-VA) suggested an additional protected category: the military.
bulletTom Feeney (R-FL) suggested the homeless as an additional class.
bulletOther additional categories were suggested: age, women who are pregnant.
bulletLouis Gohmert (R-TX) suggested that "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" be removed from the bill; that was defeated 19 to 13.
bulletMike Pence (R-IN) suggested a curious amendment: "Nothing in this section limits the religious freedom of any person or group under the constitution."
bulletLouis Gohmert (R-TX) asked a question. The wording of the question and the answer differ, depending on whether you read an Email sent by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) -- a fundamentalist Christian group -- in a mailing titled "Terribly sad day for Christians in America," or read the exchange in the Congressional Record:
As reported by the Traditional Values Coalition As reported in the Congressional Record

Louis Gohmert asked:

"If a minister was giving a sermon, a Bible study or any kind of written or spoken message saying that homosexuality was a serious sin and a person in the congregation went out and committed a crime against a homosexual would the minister be charged with the crime of incitement?"

Louis Gohmert asked:

"if a minister preaches that sexual relations outside of marriage of a man and woman is wrong, and somebody within that congregation goes out and does an act of violence, and that person says that that minister counseled or induced him through the sermon to commit that act, are you saying under your amendment that in no way could that ever be introduced against the minister?

Artur Davis (D-AL) replied:


Artur Davis (D-AL) replied:


The TVC news release continued:

"Friends, that is what we have been warning you about and our legal advice was correct. It is evident what HR 1592 is about. It is not about homosexuals and cross dressers suffering with no food, shelter or jobs, it is about preventing Bible-believing people and pastors from speaking the truth."

"It is about punishing them so they will not dare to speak the truth."

"It is about threatening them with prison so they won't dare speak the truth."

"The Judiciary Committee could easily have accepted the amendment, 'Nothing in this section limits the religious freedom of any person or group under the constitution'."

"Rev. Lou Sheldon stated, 'By refusing to accept this amendment the Democrats on this committee have proven their purpose, to remove freedom of religion from the U.S. Constitution'." 2 (Highlighting removed)

The author appears to equate freedom of religion with the incitement to commit a criminal act -- namely for a pastor to so arouse vicious hatred in his congregation against gays, transsexuals, women, or disabled people, etc. that one member leaves the service and engages in gay bashing or other hate-motivated criminal act.

The full story is covered on the "Good As You" website. 11

Only one of the dozens of amendments was passed. Artur Davis (D-AL), a co-sponsor of the bill, offered a change that clarified that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech would not be affected by the bill. That is, pastors and other Christians who denigrate homosexuals (or women or the disabled, etc) need not fear being charged with conspiracy if a someone is motivated by the speech to commit a violent act. The amendment reads:

"Sec. 8: Rule of Construction:
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." 9

The bill itself was accepted by the committee with a vote of 20 to 14, strictly along party lines.

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Support for the bill:

The Washington Times reported:

"More than 200 organizations have attached their support to the legislation, including some of the nation's more prominent lobbying organizations such as the AFL-CIO, American Medial Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People." 3

Chairperson's comments:

Committee chairperson John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) commented:
"H.R. 1592 offers federal protection, in conjunction with state and local officials, for victims of hate crimes targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. These crimes constitute an assault not only against the victim, but against our communities and against the very foundation of our Democracy."

"... despite the widespread and devastating impact of hate violence, current law fails to adequately address these crimes. Current law severely limits Federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to incidents directed against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national origin. Federal jurisdiction pertains only if the victim is targeted because he or she is engaged in a specified federally protected activity, such as voting."

"Moreover, current law does not provide for any Federal involvement in a range of cases -- namely where crimes are motivated by bias against the victim's perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. As a result, if a state or local law enforcement agency refuses to prosecute these types of hate crimes, the victim is helpless."

"... H.R. 1592 has widespread support. The legislation has 137 cosponsors, and is supported by more than 230 civil rights, education, religious, and civic organizations, including the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights. Virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country has endorsed the bill, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Sheriffs Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum, as well as nearly 30 State Attorneys General. ..."

"Hate crimes are a stain on our national heritage. We should accordingly do what we can to better equip our Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies with the tools to prosecute these crimes. H.R. 1592 provides those critical tools." 4

According to Michael Marcavage of Repent America, this bill "heads for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, May 3, 2007." 5

2007-MAY-03: Bill approved in the House:

According to the OutQ program on Sirius satellite radio, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the House voted to approve the bill with a vote of 237 to 180. Although this represents a significant victory, the vote is insufficient to overturn an expected presidential veto. Twenty-five Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill. Fourteen Democrats did the same to oppose it.

During the debate, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic Majority Leader said:

"I hope that every member has the courage and the perspective that, when they rise from their bed twenty years from now, they will be able to say -- unlike some of our predecessors in centuries past, who failed the test of tolerance -- to say that we had the courage to live out the principles that make America such a wonderful, great, decent and just nation. Vote for this bill.  Vote for our principles.  Vote our faith that teaches that we reach out to lift up and to love.  Vote for this bill."

Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, said:

"Although this is the first major step to passing inclusive hate crimes legislation, we have a long way to go to ensure this legislation becomes law. I am personally grateful to the United States House for recognizing the grave reality of hate crimes in America. ... I am encouraged that the House was able to overcome the lies and misinformation being spread by anti-gay organizations trying to derail this bill. As the parent of a young man killed simply for being gay, I refuse to be silent and let this bill be misconstrued by these organizations." 6

The White House issued a "Statement of Administration Policy" shortly before the vote was taken:

"The Administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics such as race, color, religion, or national origin. ... However, the Administration believes that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable. If H.R. 1592 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill." 7

This seems to be saying that the existing hate crimes act is perfect as is, giving protection to persons on the basis of their "race, color, religion or national origin." However, the statement seems to imply that people are not worthy to be protected from violence on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. To extend protection to these groups would be "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable." This is a curious position to take, since it would leave 100% of Americans unprotected from hate crimes based on the latter four factors.

Fate of HR 1592:

The bill did not become law. However, a similar bill was introduced to Congress in early 2009-APR.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "H.R. 1582," text, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  2. "Terribly sad day for Christians in America," Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-APR-25.
  3. Eric Pfeiffer, "Clergy rally to expand hate-crime law to gays," The Washington Times, 2007-APR-18, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/
  4. "House Judiciary Committee Passes Federal Hate Crimes Bill," Committee on the Judiciary, 2007-APR-25, at: http://judiciary.house.gov/
  5. Michael Marcavage, "Lift up thy voice as the First Amendment nears death," Repent America, 2007-APR-27, at: http://www.repentamerica.com/
  6. "Matthew Shepard Foundation applauds United States House for passing hate crimes legislation," Matthew Shepard Foundation, 2007-MAY-03, at: http://www.matthewshepard.org/
  7. Jeff Johnson, "House passes 'thought crimes' bill 237 to 180,"  OneNewsNow.com, 2007-MAY-03, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  8. "The Dangerous Truth About "Hate (Thought) Crimes": House Passes H.R. 1592," Advance USA, at: http://www.advanceusa.org/pro3.asp
  9. "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by House): HR 1592 EH," Library of Congress, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  10. From "Federal Hate Crimes Bill Passes House," news alert by Equality Maryland, 2007-MAY-04.
  11. "TVC: The least truthful member of our opposition?," Good as You, 2007-MAY-01, at: http://www.goodasyou.org/
  12. "H.R. 1592, 110th Congress," GovTrack.us, at: http://www.govtrack.us/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2007-APR-12
Latest update: 2009-APR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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