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Frist urged to halt ‘special protections’ for homosexuals

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist public policy chief Richard Land and other pro-family leaders are calling on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to block passage of legislation that would expand rights for homosexuals.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and American Family Association founder Donald Wildmon joined Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and 40 national and state leaders in a Sept. 20 letter telling Frist they “are looking to [him] to assure” that a measure expanding hate crimes prevention to cover homosexuals and “transgendered” individuals fails to become law.

The focus is on Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, and the Senate because the House of Representatives approved the legislation in a somewhat surprising action Sept. 14. The House passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 2662, in a 223-199 vote. Thirty Republicans joined 192 Democrats and an independent to pass the measure.

The House approved the hate crimes legislation as an amendment to the Children’s Safety Act, H.R. 3132, which would stiffen penalties for and supervision of sex offenders. Passage of the sex offender bill came in a 371-52 vote, with only 29 Republicans and 23 Democrats opposing it, even though it included the hate crimes measure.

While Land and his fellow signers said they strongly support the Children’s Safety Act, they “will adamantly oppose” the inclusion of the hate crimes language. That measure “was created as, and continues to be, an attempt by some to advance the cause of homosexuality.”

The hate crimes language would extend protection to include “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.” The hate crimes law currently covers the classifications of race, color, religion and national origin.

“Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality. “Gender identity” is a “person’s innate sense of gender,” which may be different than his sex, according to the website of the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the country’s largest “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” political organization. Transgender is an umbrella term for “people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing an innate sense of gender other than their birth sex,” according to HRC. The transgender category includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.

The hate crimes measure would violate the “principles of liberty and quality,” grant special protections “to a particular group of people based on their lifestyle” and “could ultimately lead to the silencing of the church,” the pro-family leaders told Frist in the letter from the ERLC.

So far, the government has granted civil rights protections “based on certain immutable characteristics shared by humanity generally,” they said. While some may contend homosexuality should receive “special protections” in the way religious belief does, a “sharp distinction may be drawn” between the two, Land and the others said.

“Religious belief is inherent to all mankind,” they said in the letter. “Despite the vast differences in belief systems, from belief in God to disbelief, every human attempts to define themselves and the world around them, adopting a religious view, ranging from Christianity to atheism. In contrast, only a small percentage of the population identifies themselves as homosexual. Homosexuality is not part of the universal human condition and should not be afforded the same protections as immutable qualities common to all mankind.”

When the government establishes “more and more special rights,” it places limitations not only “upon actions, but speech and thought as well,” the pro-family leaders told Frist. “This trend will prepare the way for the outright ban of criticism of a lifestyle believed by millions of people of religious conviction to be contrary to the laws of God and nature. Thus, granting special rights and protections to homosexuals is inevitably a step toward removing rights from those who oppose homosexuality.”

Land and the others pointed to Canada and Sweden as examples of countries where speaking against homosexuality is already a crime.

In addition to Land, Dobson and Wildmon, other signers included Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Paul Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America; Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel; Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Gary Cass, executive director of Center for Reclaiming America; Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America; Rod Parsley, Ohio pastor and president of the Center for Moral Clarity; Janet Folger, president of Faith2Action; and Ken Hutcherson, Washington pastor and organizer of Mayday for Marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign praised the House’s passage of the hate crimes legislation. HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a written statement the House provided a “powerful law enforcement tool.” HRC said it “strongly prefers” the House-approved language in contrast to the Senate version, because it “is more explicit in its coverage of the transgender community.”

There appears to be a majority in the Senate prepared to approve an expansion of the hate crimes law to include “sexual orientation.” The Senate version has 44 cosponsors. Last year, the Senate passed a similar expansion of hate crimes legislation as an amendment to a bill, but the House did not include the measure in its version of the bill. House appointees to the conference committee succeeded in removing the hate crimes measure from the final bill.

The House-approved measure authorizes the United States attorney general to provide assistance to state and local officials in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.
Sen. Frist’s office may be reached by calling (202) 224-3344 or by e-mailing through his website, http://frist.senate.gov.