WASHINGTON (BP)–Supporters and opponents of legislation that will expand hate-crimes protections to homosexuals continue to wait on a Senate vote on a defense authorization bill that includes the controversial measure.
No Senate vote had been scheduled as of Tuesday on the 2010 defense authorization bill to which the hate-crimes provision has been attached, although a vote could come this week. The House of Representatives voted 281-146 on Oct. 8 for the overall proposal after it came out of a conference committee made up of members of both chambers.
President Obama has pledged to sign the legislation if the Senate passes it. Obama promised to sign the bill into law at an Oct. 10 dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the country’s largest civil rights organization for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
As included in the conference committee’s report, the bill would give the U.S. attorney general the authority to investigate crimes that are “motivated by prejudice” based on the “actual or perceived … sexual orientation [or] gender identity” of a person. It also adds disability to the list of protected categories.
“Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality and bisexuality, while “gender identity,” or transgendered status, takes in transsexuals and cross-dressers.
Social conservative groups are urging their constituents to contact their senators and urge them to a) pull the hate crimes measure from the defense bill, or, if that is not successful b) defeat the defense authorization bill outright. (Senators can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or online (http://capwiz.com/ethics/dbq/officials).
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and others oppose efforts to expand hate-crimes protections based not only on their inclusion of categories defined by sexual behavior or identity but also because of concerns about the potential impact on religious freedom.
They fear the measure, combined with existing law, could expose to prosecution Christians and others who proclaim the Bible’s teaching that homosexual behavior and other sexual relations outside marriage are sinful. For example, if a person commits a violent act based on a victim’s “sexual orientation” after hearing biblical teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, the preacher or teacher could be open to a charge of inducing the person to commit the crime, some foes say.
Attaching the hate-crimes language to the defense authorization bill “makes political pawns of our soldiers,” ERLC President Richard Land said in an Oct. 12 e-mail alert.
“For Christians, the full implications are unknown but certainly troublesome,” Land said.
During debate before the House vote, Rep. Mike Pence, R.-Ind., said he “disdains” discrimination but that approval of the hate-crimes legislation would hinder religious speech.
“Under Section 2 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code today,” Pence said, “an individual may be held criminally liable who aids, abets, counsels, commands or induces or procures in the commission of a federal crime. Therefore, to put a fine point on it, any pastor, preacher, priest, rabbi or imam who may give a sermon out of their moral traditions about sexual practices could presumably under this legislation be found to have aided, abetted or induced in the commission of a federal crime. This will have a chilling effect on religious expression from the pulpits, in our temples, in our mosques and in our churches.”
Persons convicted of a hate crime would be subject to more prison time and penalties than persons who commit a crime that falls outside the class of hate crimes.
Already protected in hate-crimes laws are such classifications as race, national origin and religion.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To see how your representative voted on the bill, visit http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/roll770.xml.