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Hate-Crimes Legislation Arrives at Senate

Hate-Crimes Legislation Arrives at Senate

by Pete Winn, associate editor
October 19, 2005

Bill would give legal protection to sexual orientation.

A bad "hate-crimes" bill has arrived at the doorstep of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the bill would extend existing hate-crimes laws - laws that already call for enhanced punishment for crimes motivated by race, color, national origin and religion - to include crimes based on "actual or perceived gender," "sexual orientation," disability and something called "gender identity."

The hate-crimes legislation, which was approved by the House in September on a vote of 223-199, is attached as an amendment to an otherwise good bill - the Children's Safety Act.

That act, which is intended to protect children against violent and sexual crimes and create a sex-offender registry, is worthwhile, according to Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute.

However, the hate-crimes amendment is offensive.

"The bill would expand federal power greatly over criminal law, at the local level," he said. "Right now, the federal government can only intervene in cases it considers hate crimes if they involve a federalized criminal activity - such as interfering with someone in the act of voting. This would open it up wide."

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the amendment makes him very nervous.

"I do not believe it is good, nor do I believe it necessary, for us to pass hate-crimes legislation - which is thought legislation," he said. "We should punish the crime. We shouldn't try to ascertain the thought going on at the time of the crime."

The whole area of hate crimes is fraught with all kinds of problems, according to Brownback, who was an attorney prior to joining the Senate.

"There's been great concern - and I think legitimate concern," he said, "that hate-crimes legislation will be used against legitimate speech in some places; where people speak out of their beliefs and could then be charged with a hate crime."

Brownback said this particular bill doesn't provide for persecution of Christians who are critical of homosexuality - but it may open the door to it at some point.

Knight agreed, saying the intent of the present bill seems to be to enhance criminal sentences for actual crimes "like hitting somebody over the head." But it does lay the groundwork for criminalizing thought, speech and perceptions regarding homosexuality.

"We've seen similar hate-crimes laws in Canada and Sweden evolve into instruments against people in public life who criticize homosexuality," Knight said. "Pastors are afraid to talk about it in Canada now, and one was arrested in Sweden under hate-crimes law. We'd hate to see that happen in the United States. This law wouldn't do it immediately, but it lays the foundation for that kind of system."

The amendment is a "new and improved" version of a bill first introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., several years ago. It would, for the first time, extend coverage to "gender identity" - a code word for transgendered people and cross-dressers. It also provides for the federal government to give money to local authorities to prosecute hate crimes.

"It's the Kennedy bill warmed over," Knight said. "It actually increases the amount of money that states would get if they would devote more resources to prosecuting hate crimes. It went from $5 million in the original bill to $10 million. Of course, that would give states some incentive to concentrate on some cases at the expense of others."

Amanda Banks, federal issues analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said hate-crimes legislation is totally unnecessary.

"The fact of the matter is, hate crimes are being prosecuted and the law currently covers these things," she said. "We don't need additional laws on the books that are just going to muddy it up.

"Hate crimes are a very small percentage of crimes committed, and in fact, they are decreasing. To say that we need more legislation to protect people from hate crimes is absurd. There is no proof for that."

Banks said even though the legislation is opposed by several senators besides Brownback, it is important for people to contact members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and let them know what they think.

TAKE ACTION: Please take time to contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and let them know that hate-crimes legislation is unneeded, unfair, and could open the door to eventual persecution.


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