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Hate crimes bill covering gays could get Senate vote Thur.

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as early as July 16 on hate crimes legislation that not only would expand protections for homosexuals and transgendered people but could threaten religious freedom.

The measure was introduced July 15 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, S. 1390, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity quickly issued an e-mail alert urging opposition to the proposal.

The legislation, titled the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the current categories — such as race, religion and national origin — protected from hate crimes. “Sexual orientation” includes homosexuality and bisexuality, while “gender identity,” or transgendered status, takes in transsexuals and cross-dressers.

Also, opponents warn that 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.

Critics say the proposal would require prosecutors and law enforcement personnel to judge a person’s thoughts rather than his deeds.

“Hate crimes legislation, better termed ‘thought crimes’ legislation, would elevate homosexuals who are victims of violent crimes to special, protected status under the law based on their ‘actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,'” Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in the July 15 e-mail alert. “But that’s just the beginning. It would lay the groundwork for prosecuting Christians who share their biblical beliefs against homosexuality. This dangerous bill must be stopped!”

The legislation’s attachment to the defense authorization bill would appear to give a boost to its chances of passage. The Senate approved similar hate crimes language in 2007 as part of the defense authorization measure, but it was removed from the final bill when it became clear the House would not pass it.

President Obama has expressed support for expanding hate crimes law to include homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation as a stand-alone bill — the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913 — with a 249-175 vote in late April.

The Senate version has 45 cosponsors. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., is the bill’s sponsor.

The ERLC encouraged its constituents to contact their senators by e-mailing them or by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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