WASHINGTON (BP)–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.
It is distressing the bill’s congressional supporters chose to use our nation’s commitment to our military to advance this goal. While no one should engage in an act of violence against another person because that person is a homosexual, it stretches the meaning of germaneness into the absurd to suggest that the hate-crimes bill was germane to the issue of national defense. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives and Senate have done that very thing and passed the hate-crimes bill as an attachment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
What is even more distressing is 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.
One sees immediately two problems here. First, the bill allows for federal prosecution of someone whose speech was “intended to” incite violence against homosexuals. The concern here is over how “intention” will be determined. No doubt, there will be instances where federal prosecutors will be scrutinizing sermons about homosexuality, parsing the language that is used and the inflection in the voice, to attempt to discern whether or not the speaker intended to incite violence. While the burden of proof will be on the government, it is likely that some pastors and other religious figures will be put in a position where they will be forced to defend their speech before federal prosecutors.
This will likely especially create a burden for speakers whose messages are carried over the radio or other mass communication media. They have no means to know who might be listening to their messages, but a malicious person could accuse them of inciting violence against a homosexual if the attacker happened to be exposed to that message by being in the same city where the message is broadcast. It would only take a couple of these instances actually occurring to result in a chilling effect on religious speech regarding homosexuality.
The second concern with the hate crimes language is related to the bill’s focus on one’s attitude toward homosexuality. The bill leaves open the possibility that someone could be prosecuted for a hate crime on the basis of what he thought about homosexuality, whether this attitude motivated the attack or not. In this case, Congress has opened the door to special federal prosecution not only for the act of violence but for what the attacker thought about the victim at the time of the attack. It is likely that the attacker’s speech will still be used as the primary means for determining whether or not he attacked someone because the person was, or was perceived to be, homosexual, but the bill creates the possibility of federal scrutiny of one’s belief system as a means of determining whether or not bias was involved.
An evangelical Christian would likely find himself in greater jeopardy in this instance because of his belief in the Bible’s teaching regarding the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. This belief could be used as a basis for accusing him of bias against homosexuality, which, an accuser could argue, predisposed him to act violently toward someone who was, or appeared to be, homosexual.
Whether or not these possibilities become realities is yet to be seen, but Congress has just extended special protections to homosexuals that are not available to most other Americans. It also has discouraged religious speech that is not affirming of homosexual behavior and created the opportunity for malicious people to harass those who hold religious convictions about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior.
Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.