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Approach of hate-crimes bill questioned in Senate hearing

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony May 11 questioning a bill that would expand federal hate-crimes legislation to include homosexuality as a classification deserving protection.
Most of the seven witnesses, including Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, expressed support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 622), but a representative of the Family Research Council strongly opposed it and a Yale University law professor proposed an alternative approach. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, raised constitutional concerns and also offered a different plan.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would amend a 1969 hate-crimes law that bans the use of force or threat of force against a person “because of his race, color, religion or national origin.” The bill would add gender, disability and “sexual orientation,” which includes homosexuality, to the protected classes. The amendment also would remove the six “federally protected activities” that a person must be participating in before being considered a victim of a hate crime. Those activities include employment and public-school attendance.
Hatch proposed at the hearing an approach that included the following proposals, according to his prepared statement: A Justice Department fund to help state and local jurisdictions in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes; an analysis of data collected under a 1990 law to determine if some states are failing to prosecute hate crimes; and a forum to establish model hate-crimes legislation that states could use by which to evaluate their own laws.
Holder acknowledged the “data we have now are inadequate,” according to his written testimony.
In 1997, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 8,049 hate-crime incidents were reported by 11,211 law-enforcement agencies, Holder testified. This “disturbing number underestimates the true level of hate crimes,” he said. Many victims do not report such crimes, and some police departments either do not recognize all hate crimes or do not collect such data, Holder said.
Of the total hate crimes reported in 1997, 1,102 were based on the victim’s “sexual orientation,” he said.
Providing more complete data “is absolutely critical,” Hatch told Holder, according to an Associated Press report. “I don’t want any hate crimes to exist in our country, but I also don’t want to overdo the law.
“If the states are doing the job, then what’s the need for really broad legislation that basically may not be necessary under the circumstances?”
Expressing constitutional concerns about the legislation, Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar agreed with Hatch’s proposals for a data analysis and adoption of a model law, according to written testimony. Amar also suggested the establishment of a federal civil right of action instead of a federal criminal law.
Robert Knight, however, voiced the Family Research Council’s strong opposition to the bill. It would violate the idea of equal protection under the law, would increase the authority and scope of the federal government to intervene in local issues and would have a “chilling effect on free speech,” Knight said in his prepared testimony.
“Homosexual activists have even suggested that statements opposing homosexuality amount to inciting violence,” said Knight, FRC’s director of cultural studies, in his written testimony. “Incitement, as you know, is not constitutionally protected speech. The aim seems to be to silence all opposition to acceptance of homosexuality.”
Among witnesses who advocated the hate-crimes bill were Jeanine Ferris Pirro, a district attorney in White Plains, N.Y.; Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University; and Judy Shepherd, whose openly homosexual son, Matthew, was beaten to death in October in Wyoming.
If such a law had existed, “[p]erhaps these murderers would have gotten the message that this country does not tolerate hate-motivated violence,” Shepherd said in her prepared testimony. “Maybe I would not have to be here today, talking about how my son was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in freezing temperatures.”
In April, President Clinton affirmed his 1997 endorsement of a similar bill. He also announced a public-private partnership to teach tolerance programs in the country’s middle schools.
At the time, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the effort “part of a larger strategy by the radical homosexual and lesbian movement.” Land said the president’s effort would work against parents who teach their children they should not hate homosexuals but homosexuality is unacceptable behavior.
Stiffer penalties and tougher prosecutors, not hate-crimes laws, are what are needed, Land said.
At a White House conference on hate crimes in November 1997, Clinton administration officials called for “diversity” training in grade school in order to assure tolerance of others, including homosexuals, by children.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have hate-crimes laws that include “sexual orientation,” according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest homosexual political organization.