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Religious Tolerance logo

Hate-crimes legislation

Accusations that hate-crime
laws would inhibit free speech

Sponsored link.

This essay deals mainly with a series of unsuccessful
hate-crime bills dating from the years 2000 to 2004.
However, the identical concerns are still being
 expressed about the 2009 hate-crime bill.


Positive comments:

bullet"A hate crime is fundamentally different from an identical act not motivated by hate because the hate crime's end is different. A hate crime is done to intimidate and oppress a particular group of people. The action itself is fundamentally different." Blake Roberts, in The Hoya, Georgetown University 1
bullet"We must continue to fight for justice, hope, and freedom by ensuring that hate crimes prevention provisions are enacted into law. That would be a true and fitting memorial to James Byrd, Matthew Shepard, Waqar Hasan, Gwen Araujo and so many others who have died because of ignorance and intolerance." Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 2

Negative comments, mainly concerned with restrictions on hate speech:

bullet"This 'Hate Crimes Bill'? would make it illegal to not only commit a hate crime against someone but also 'cause' a hate crime through your speech. It protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT) people along with pedophiles and 30 other sexual orientations from being spoken against in public." 3
bullet"If this 'hate crime' legislation were to become law, it would be used against individuals and churches that speak out on issues such as defending marriage and religious liberty." Massachusetts Family Institute. 4 & Family Research Council. 5
bullet"There are those that would delight in silencing any criticism of their lifestyle and would find this hate-crime legislation the perfect tool for accomplishing their end." Reverend Dr. Simpson, Harvester Baptist Church, Colombia, MD. 6
bullet"Hate crimes legislation could severely restrict Americans' freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of religion." Family Research Council 7

Conservative Christians' concerns about freedom of speech:

All of the concerns about hate-crime legislation that we have seen to date have come from conservative Christian groups. They seem to be alarmed about two factors:

bulletThat the law would inhibit hate speech in religious settings directed against sexual minorities.
bulletThat sexual orientation (i.e. heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality) might become a protected class in hate-crimes legislation. This would lead to greater acceptance of homosexuality as a normal and natural sexual orientation for a minority of adults.

Some comments:

bullet2001-SEP: WV: West Virginia Family Foundation (WVFF): Kevin McCoy, leader of the WVFF, complained about a training course that was being given to police officers by the assistant attorney general for West Virginia. The WVFF is an affiliate of the American Family Association, a fundamentalist Christian group. The course mentions that some of the hate groups in the U.S. (presumably referring to the Christian Identity movement, the KKK, and similar groups):

"include apocalyptic Christianity in their ideology and believe we are in, or approaching, a period of violence and social turmoil which will precede the Second Coming of Christ."

This is a comment found also in FBI and CSIS documents that were released in late 1999. (CSIS is the "Canadian Security Intelligence Service, a Federal government agency.) At the time, both intelligence agencies were concerned about the possibility of major upheaval due to computer failures and other disturbances during the year 2000 -- commonly called the Y2K problem.  According to an article in the Register-Herald:

"McCoy takes this to mean anyone with a literal interpretation of the Bible, especially in regard to scriptures on prophecy, is part and parcel of a hate group. 8

McCoy seems to have interpreted this quotation from the course to mean that because a few hate groups who represent a very small percentage of the American population believe in an imminent and violent end of the world, that anyone who believes in a violent end of the world is a member of a hate group. The latter would include essentially all fundamentalists and most other evangelicals -- probably a majority of adults in West Virginia. The break in logic is obvious.

The reporter comments:

"Could this mean preachers would be hauled off to the courts to face hate crime violations? ... To conservative groups such as McCoy's, cleverly linking Nazis and Klan groups or others backgrounded in violence with opponents of homosexuality is an old tack harking back to the "big lie" method of the [Nazi Germany's] Third Reich."

bullet2001-JUL-26: Traditional Values Coalition (TVC): The TVC issued a press release concerning "The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act," S. 625 -- a bill that was before the U.S. Senate at the time. The release said in part:

"This legislation also provides a blank check for the funding of law enforcement and public school materials that promote anti-Christian bigotry under the guise of reducing 'hate' ." 

Quoting Andrea Lafferty, Executive Director of TVC, the release said:

"This law will violate the free speech rights of Christians and others who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds. This is a direct attack against the First Amendment and freedom of religion. It must not be passed by the Senate."

Sponsored link:

bullet2001-JUN-1: Focus on the Family: Focus regularly issues reports on "family issues in policy and culture." One deals with hate crime legislation. They suggest that laws of this type "harm religious freedom." They stated, in part:

"Such laws could (and probably would) be used to harm people of faith, chill free speech, and even lead to same-sex 'marriage'."

They define the phrase "chill free speech" as meaning "to intimidate or discourage a person from speaking."

They conclude that if a Christian were to commit a hate crime motivated by his/her hatred of homosexuals, then their clergyperson might be "prosecuted for conspiracy or subjected to civil lawsuits" if he/she had preached against homosexuality in advance of the hate crime. The Focus writer is also concerned that hate crime legislation that includes protection for sexual orientation might influence future legislation on different topics -- e.g. allowing committed, loving same-sex couples to marry.

bulletUndated: Liberty Counsel: Liberty Counsel is a fundamentalist Christian agency concerned with religious freedom rights for Christians. In an undated memorandum they express concern over the "Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2000."  The bill was extremely limited in scope; it would only cover crimes that injure or kill a person which were motivated by hatred of  their actual or perceived sexual orientation, if the crime was tied in some way to interstate commerce, and if the crime was committed using fire, a firearm, incendiary device or bomb. They state:

"The religious organizations and clergy that would be impacted by this Bill are those who have a sincere belief that homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism [sic] and bisexuality violate their religious tenets." 9

As is common with conservative Christian groups, they are referring to behavior, not to sexual orientation -- the factor that would be protected by the legislation. Their inclusion of being transgender appears to be in error. It is not a sexual orientation; it is a gender identity -- a factor that would not be covered by the year 2000 bill. On a positive note, this is one of the rare instances when a conservative Christian group refers to bisexual or and transgender persons.

They cite a hypothetical situation in which a minister preached a sermon that called on his congregation to "actively oppose the promotion or acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle in their community." A member of the congregation might then torture and fatally crucify a gay man, as was done to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. They speculate that the pastor could be charged with conspiracy to commit a hate crime. Stanley and Staver point out that some states have"

"expansive definitions of conspiracy that only require agreement to pursue an objective that may be lawful (i.e. opposition to the homosexual lifestyle) in an unlawful manner and that the crime committed was a natural and foreseeable consequence of the agreement."

bullet2001-AUG-1: ChristiansUnite.com: Reporter Andrea Lafferty wrote an article about an early proposed federal hate-crimes bill S.625. She refers to a book by James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter who state that the goal of hate crimes legislation is to criminalize people's beliefs about right and wrong. She also refers to educator Jonathan Kozol who states that such legislation: "are symptomatic of society's Balkanization. They are futile in the long run. We cannot rebuild society by legislative penalties for insensitive acts and utterances." 10, 11
bulletUndated: Family Research Council (FRC): People for the American Way, a liberal agency, criticized the Family Research Council for "bearing false witness" in one of their action alerts. FRC is quoted as stating that:

"Hate crimes legislation could severely restrict Americans' freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of religion. This legislation would give the government the power to interpret and classify certain speech, thought, theology, and moral belief as unlawful or contributing to crime. Will pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders who preach and teach against homosexual conduct be prosecuted for inciting a hate crime?" 7

See also an essay on Conservatives' concerns about
the 2007 and 2009 versions of the hate crime legislation

References used:

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

  1. Blake Roberts, "Hate crimes, not legislation, violate freedom," The Hoya, 2000-FEB-8, at: http://www.thehoya.com/viewpoint/
  2. "House Democratic leader Nandy Pelosi: Hate crimes prevention legislation is right thing to do, long overdue," Islam-Infonet, Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2004-SEP-29.
  3. Lauren, "The truth about the "hate crimes bill," Pride of America, 2009-MAY-10, at: http://prideofamerica.wordpress.com/
  4. "Action alert: Protect free speech!," E-Alert, Massachusetts Family Institute, 2004-OCT-1.
  5. "Congress 'suggests' ending free speech," Washington Update, Family Research Council, 2004-SEP-29.
  6. Don Martin, "Local loon speaks out," at: http://www.skeptictank.org/
  7. "Bearing false witness: The FRC's six big lies about the hate crimes prevention act," People for the American Way, at: http://www.pfaw.org/
  8. Mannix Porterfield, "Christians a 'hate group'," The Register-Herald newspaper of Beckley, WV. See: http://www.zwire.com/ This is probably a temporary listing
  9. E.W. Stanley & M.D. Staver, "The impact on hate crimes laws upon religious organizations and clergy," Liberty Counsel, at: http://www.lc.org/
  10. Andrea Lafferty, "Hate crime law creates 'Animal Farm' justice system," ChristiansUnite.com, 2001-AUG-1, at: http://news.christiansunite.com/
  11. James B. Jacobs & Kimberly Potter,  "Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics," Oxford University Press, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Copyright © 2001 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-SEP-04
Latest update: 2009-JUL-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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