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Religious Tolerance logo

U.S. hate crime bills/laws - 2009

More negative reactions to the bill/law

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Negative reaction to the bill (Cont'd):

bulletSenator Jim DeMint, (R-SC) expressed his concern about what he thinks law may do to people of faith. He asked:

"Can priests, pastors and rabbis be sure their preaching will not be prosecuted if it says certain things are right and wrong? Or will this provision serve as a warning to people not to speak out too loudly about their religious views, lest federal agents come knocking at their door?" 1

bulletBarrett Duke of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention interpreted the bill  as a "gay hate crimes bill" that represents an "assault on evangelical belief." Duke writes:

"With the House and Senate passage of the hate-crimes bill, liberals in Congress made further progress in their effort to normalize homosexual behavior in the United States. The bill extends special federal protections to homosexuals that are not available to most Americans."

He appears to be unaware that the bill protects every American in eight ways -- on the basis of their race, religion, color, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity and gender.

He wrote:

"Congress has just extended special protections to homosexuals that are not available to most other Americans."

We are at a total loss trying to interpret this sentence. The bill provides protection from hate crimes to every American on the basis of their sexual orientation, whether they be heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. We have filled out the "contact us" section of the ERLC asking for clarification. As expected, we did not receive a response to our request or acknowledgment of its receipt.

Duke expressed concern for:

"... the bill's potential for chilling religious speech regarding homosexuality. The hate-crimes language creates the potential for federal prosecution of anyone whose speech incites an act of violence against someone who is, or is perceived to be, homosexual."

This claim would be far more convincing if he had cited one case of prosecution for hate speech in the past four decades where a similar bill protected people on the basis of religion, color, race and nationality.

He expressed concern over the bill's "...chilling effect on religious speech regarding homosexuality." Actually, if there materializes any chilling effect, it would involve speech intended to incite random violence against homosexuals.

On a positive note, he concludes: "Whether or not these possibilities become realities is yet to be seen." At least he holds open the possibility that his fears will not materialize. Other conservative commentators have assumed that persecution of pastors for reading the clobber passages in the Bible are inevitable. 2

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Negative reaction after the bill was signed into law:

The basic theme cited by many people who are opposed to the law is that hate crime law will criminalize hate speech, particularly hate speech directed against gays and lesbians. This is in spite of the amendment that was added to the bill to offer additional protection for those who want to disseminate hate speech.

bulletPat Robertson commented on his TV program:
"What about a law that says it?s a federal crime to attack somebody because of his religious beliefs? Not a chance!"

He apparently is unaware that religion is one of the eight groups protected under this law, and in the preceding law that has been in place for decade.

Later, he commented:
"... the noose has tightened around the necks of Christians to keep them from speaking out on certain moral issues. And it all was embodied in something called the hate crimes bill that President Obama said was a major victory for America. I?m not sure whether America was the beneficiary. ... We have voted into office a group of people who are opposed to many of the fundamental Christian beliefs of our nation. And they hold to radical ideology, and they are beginning put people sharing their points of view into high office. ... People who are standing for religious values -- time honored biblical values of our nation -- are being hooted down. ... until the liberties we have enjoyed aren't there any longer." 3,4
bulletRev. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said:
"I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God. In the days ahead, we may face persecution because of our pronouncement of the truths of Holy Scripture." 5
bulletMcCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis and president of the Missouri Baptist Convention said:
"I will contend that tone of voice says a lot. When one hears that they're doing wrong from someone who cares for their soul, it's hard to call that hate speech. ... [Congress] can write the laws they wish, but it's not going to affect what I preach and how I preach it. However, I will also tell you I don't believe the way that I preach the word of God that speaks against such sin makes people think I take any joy in pointing any fingers at anyone." 5

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Total count of criminal charges or convictions for hate speech remains zero:

President Obama signed the hate crimes bill into law on 2009-OCT-28, thus creating the first major federal civil rights legislation to protect every American from physical attacks on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many social and religious conservatives were concerned that people will be charged under this hate crimes law for uttering hate speech, even though the law specifically guarantees freedom of hate speech.

We have decided to revisit this concern regularly and report any such charges if they were to occur.

As of 2010-JAN-27, three months have passed since the signing of the bill. If the fears of social and religious conservatives were valid, one would expect at least a few such charges by now. However, to our knowledge, no charges for hate speech have been laid under this hate crimes law. We are confident that none have actually been laid, because if one were, every conservative Christian news source would be certain to report the event.

On 2010-JAN-23, the morning's mailing from the Family Research Council -- a fundamentalist Christian offshoot of Focus on the Family -- seems to have dropped any concern for the hate-speech implications of the hate-crimes bill. They warned of a liberal legislative attack on what they describe as Christian values over the following 120 days. They predict four pieces of legislation will pass:
bulletThe Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would penalize employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, for every American.
bulletAn end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military so that persons of all sexual orientations will be able to serve openly,
bulletAn end to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, so that same-sex married couples could obtain the same benefits as opposite-sex married couples, and
bulletAllowing freedom of speech on the radio by passing a "Localism" doctrine that they don't define.

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Author comment: About the future: (Bias alert!)

One of the really ironic consequences of this law may not have been anticipated by its supporters.

Fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian news sources have been unified in their fear-based coverage of this bill. They have predicted that pastors and any other Christian expressing hate speech targeting lesbians and gays may be arrested under this law. This, of course, is most unlikely to happen. After all, this bill merely doubles the protected groups that were covered by a very similar earlier law that has been on the books for decades, and nobody has been charged under that law for hate speech. We have heard a fundamentalist teleminister call for stoning Neopagans to death. We have heard of a Baptist minister in Texas calling on the U.S. Army to napalm Wiccans to death. Neither was charged with any crime. If advocating genocide won't get a pastor charged, certainly ordinary denigration of LGBT people will not either.

Many conservative Christians now fear being charged under this new law for inciting violence or for conspiracy to commit assault. The end result is that they might become so frightened of this law that many may carefully avoid expressing hate speech directed against LGBT people. Thus, hate speech might become less frequent, even as the law performs its intended task by reducing violent hate crime based on race, color, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a hate speech law would be unconstitutional. But this new hate crimes law may well have the effect of a hate speech law That is a great development. We can benefit from a great reduction of hate in the American culture. I think that Jesus would be happy.

Although there is no real possibility that anyone will be prosecuted for hate speech under this hate crime law, a little cooling off of the rhetoric can only improve society and the quest of LGBT people for equality and dignity.

What troubles me is that concern over religious freedom of belief has morphed in recent years into concern over the religious freedom to direct hate speech against women and minorities. I long for the days when religious freedom meant allowing people to hold beliefs without oppression. Now religious freedom has become the freedom to attack, denigrate and humiliate others.

We have owned a series of Palm Pilot PDAs down through the years which have been essentially useless because we have never been able to download files from our PC to the PDA reliably. We tried on a variety of PCs and operating systems and PDAs, without any luck. But they do have an excellent calendar program that runs on the PC and is supplied with the PDA. I plan to set it up to send me a reminder once a quarter to search out any charges under this law of persons who have not directly committed a hate-based violent act. If we find any, we will be certain to report them on this website.

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References used:

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

  1. Steve Jordahl, "Hate-Crimes Bill Passes Senate," CitizenLink, 2009-OCT-23, at:
  2. Barrett Duke, "Gay hate crimes bill and the assault on evangelical belief," ERLC, 2009-OCT-27, at:
  3. "Pat Robertson on hate crimes bill," 700 club,  2009-OCT-30. at:
  4. David Neiwert, "Pat Robertson denounces hate-crimes bill, falsely claims it doesn't cover religious bias," Crooks and Liars, 2009-OCT-29, at:
  5. Tim Townsend, "Conservative pastors believe new hate crime law restricts freedom of preach," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2009-OCT-31, at:

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-OCT
Latest update: 2009-NOV-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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