WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics agency has listed “10 Reasons to Oppose Hate Crimes Legislation” in the current issue of its Salt newsletter on federal public-policy issues.
The SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s list is adapted from testimony by Robert H. Knight, director of cultural studies for the Family Research Council, before the Senate Judiciary Committee May 11. The ERLC newsletter, released in early June, has a circulation of 90,000.
A “Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” S. 622, may be voted on as an amendment to an appropriations measure currently pending in the Senate, according to the FRC.
The proposed hate-crimes act would expand 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. Such activities include employment and public-school attendance.
Among the 10 reasons for opposing hate-crimes legislation, according to the ERLC/Knight list:
— “Religious liberty would be threatened as gay and lesbian activists seek to use this legislation in an attempt to punish those who preach homosexuality is a sin according to Scripture.”
— “Statistical evidence fails to support the claim that hate crimes are widespread. According to FBI studies, ‘hate crimes’ comprised less than one-tenth of 1 percent of total violent and property crimes in 1997 — about a dozen incidents per state in a nation of 270 million citizens. Also in 1997, only three of 18,209 homicides were associated with ‘sexual orientation’ — less than two-hundredths of one percent of total homicides.”
— “Existing laws in every state cover real crimes of violence, vandalism and property destruction, which should be punished to the full extent of the law.”
In April, President Clinton affirmed his 1997 endorsement of a bill similar to the one pending in the Senate. Clinton also announced a public-private partnership to teach tolerance programs in the country’s middle schools.
At the time, Richard Land, ERLC president, 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 homosexuality is unacceptable behavior but they should not hate homosexuals.
Instead of expanded hate-crimes laws, stiffer penalties and tougher prosecutors are what are needed, Land said.
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.
The ERLC/Knight list joins a statement by the Evangelical Theological Society last November in opposing hate-crimes legislation in the wake of media reporting on “the heinous beating death of Matthew Shepard,” as the ETS resolution put it. Shepard was a homosexual student in Laramie, Wyo., murdered earlier in 1998.
The murder of Shepard, the ETS said, is “already subject to the most severe criminal sanctions,” and “we oppose any attempt by civil authority to judge the hearts of men and women for any purpose, much less for the purpose of creating a legal fiction that can only ensure unequal treatment for equally heinous criminal actions.”
The society also noted Scripture’s words that “man looks on the outward appearance” and only “God looks on the heart,” and it argued that “the idea of hate crime is about adding civil sanctions for something no human being can accurately or fairly discern in any other … .”
The 2,500-member society is the world’s largest association of evangelical professors of theology. Its membership includes professors of Bible and theology from every evangelical denomination and every evangelical college and seminary in the United States as well as many members from Canada and Europe, all of whom must affirm as a prerequisite to membership that, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.”
The ERLC/Knight list of reasons for opposing hate-crimes legislation also included:
— “The principle of equal protection under the law, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, would be violated, setting up special classes of victims who are afforded a higher level of government protection than others victimized by similar crimes.
— “It would politicize criminal prosecutions, pressuring local agencies to devote more of their limited resources to cases the federal government deems important.
— “The definition of what constitutes a hate crime is unclear in some cases. Even the mildest statements of traditional sexual morality have been attacked by homosexual activists as ‘bigotry,’ ‘hatred,’ ‘gay-bashing,’ ‘homophobia’ and ‘intolerance.’ The aim seems to be to silence all opposition to homosexuality.
— “As a practical outcome, criminal behavior would be redefined to include thoughts, speech and motivation. This legislation often, and appropriately, has been referred to as a ‘thought crimes’ bill.
— “Existing hate crimes laws are often inequitably enforced. When those with politically incorrect attitudes and traditional moral convictions have been the victims, violations have been either ignored or trivialized.
— “It advances the radical, well publicized agenda of homosexuals to gain acceptance for and legal recognition of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle.”
Tom Strode contributed to this article.