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U.S. hate crime bills/laws - 2009

Senate bill S. 909. Obama veto possible.
Double Jeopardy concern. Media coverage

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Is a presidential veto possible?

Rather than being presented as a stand-alone bill, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) added it as an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization Bill in the hopes of easing its passage. This is a common ploy used by both whichever party -- Democrats or Republicans -- is in power, much to the objection of the minority party.

John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Reid's maneuver as an "abuse of power." McCain stated:

"Those of us who oppose this legislation - and it is important legislation - , in my view, the United States of America and its judicial system and a bill defending the nation." 1

The decision to add the bill as an amendment could conceivably result in a presidential veto. President Obama has threatened to veto the Defense Department's budget bill if it continues to include more funding for the F-22 fighter program. However, with such solid support in the House, Senate, and by the President, the eventual passage of the hate-crimes legislation appears likely.

Double jeopardy concerns:

In 2009-JUN, the Federal Civil Rights Commission objected to the proposed bill because it might result in a citizen being prosecuted twice for the same violent hate crime: first by his/her state government, and then by the federal government.

The commissioners sent a letter to Senate leaders stating that:

"We believe that MSHCPA will do little good and a great deal of harm. ... Its most important effect will be to allow federal authorities to re-prosecute a broad category of defendants who have already been acquitted by state juries -- as in the Rodney King and Crown Heights cases more than a decade ago." 1

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Coverage in the media and by concerned groups:

bulletAccording to GovTrack.US, S. 909 is supported by civil rights groups like the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, Anti-Defamation League and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination. It is opposed by conservative religious groups like Focus on the Family. 2
bulletThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the Senate version of the bill because it lacked the stronger speech and association protections contained in the corresponding House Bill HB 1913. Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel said:

"It has been our experience that the fight for better and stronger civil rights protections is more successful when free speech and association are protected along the way. Fierce protection of free speech rights has historically created the space for the improvement of civil rights protections. Unless amended to block evidence of speech and association not specifically related to a crime, the Senate hate crimes amendment could chill constitutionally protected speech and association. An otherwise unremarkable violent crime should not become a federal hate crime simply because the defendant visited the wrong website, belonged to a group espousing bigotry, or subscribed to a magazine promoting discriminatory views, however wrong and repugnant those beliefs may be. We urge Congress to instead adopt the House version of the hate crimes bill, which protects both civil rights and free speech and association." 3

House Bill H.R. 1913 contains sections that state:
bullet"Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs." and
bullet"... evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial. ... unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense."

bullet Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Christian group, produced a You Tube video in 2009-JUL. It features representatives Mike Pence (R-IN) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), along with Bishop Harry Jackson. This is a very scary video. Unfortunately, none of the speakers mentioned the protection of hate speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which is the exact opposite of laws prohibiting hate speech as found in many other countries.

Viewers rated the video 2 out of 5 stars, one of the lowest ratings that we have seen on You Tube. They left 123 comments, as of 2009-JUL-18. 4 

Coverage in the media is continued in a separate essay.

References used:

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

  1. "Senate Approves Amendment Adding 'Hate Crimes' to Defense Spending Bill," LifeSiteNews, 2009-JUL-17, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  2. "S. 909: Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, GovTrack.us, at: http://www.govtrack.us/
  3. "Senate Passes Hate Crimes Amendment Lacking Free Speech and Association Protections. ACLU Calls for Adoption of House Provision, Instead," ACLU, 2009-JUL-17, at: http://www.commondreams.org/
  4. "Hate Crimes Update," Family Research Council, at: http://www.youtube.com/

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-JUL-18
Latest update: 2009-JUL-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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