House Hate Crimes Bill Punishes Violence, Not Bigotry

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

The House hate crimes bill is pitch-perfect.

It punishes only the conduct of intentionally selecting another person for violence because of that person's race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identify or disability.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and more than 40 bipartisan co-sponsors deserve credit for introducing what could become the first federal law of its kind to protect against violence due to someone's gender, sexual orientation, gender identify or disability.

But this bill doesn't punish bigotry, as ugly as those beliefs are.

So let's really explore concerns that the hate crimes bill will chill free speech and association.

For years, the ACLU was concerned enough to withhold support for this bill.

That problem was fixed in 2005.

Now, the ACLU strongly supports the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevent Act of 2009. For four years, the ACLU has fought for this legislation as protecting both civil rights and free speech and association.

This bill blocks evidence of speech and association not specifically related to a crime. That means anyone saying Congress will unleashed the "thought" police or "thought crimes" is wrong. Anyone saying people of one group offended by a broadcaster, pastor or Sunday school teach could trigger a federal prosecution is wrong.

These are just some of the red herrings about this bill, so let's be absolutely clear.

This bill will have the strongest protection against the misuse of a person's free speech that Congress has enacted in the federal criminal code.

It's worth taking a look at the short provision in the hate crimes bill that will prevent the possibility of a federal criminal conviction on the basis of speech not related to a violent act:

In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or associations of the defendants may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to the offense.

This provision is not new. It is not some untested law.

This provision in the House bill almost exactly copies language in a sixteen-year-old law in Washington state. We checked with litigators involved in hate crimes cases in Washington state. They report no complaints. The provision does not impede prosecutions.

In fact, we have found in our long record of fighting for stronger protections for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and civil rights that the two go hand in hand. Vigilant protection of free speech rights historically has opened the doors to effective advocacy for expanded civil rights protections.

Now, it's time for the Senate to include this protection of free speech and association in their hate crime bill — then it will become pitch-perfect too.

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Sorry Chris, I'm still opposed to this law and all others like it. These laws are not civil libertarian. The ACLU is looking for hate in all the wrong places.


"The provision does not impede prosecutions."

Good to know we can suspend the freedom of "speech and association" when it looks like it will impede whatever prosecution the ACLU is in support of.


It's just a foot in the door where as the government being able to tell churches what they can and cannot teach and who they can or cannot have on their staff all in the name of "tolerance". The communist leaders of old must be smiling in their graves!


Steve, at least this one is an opinion and not a demonstration of writing something exactly opposite of reality. Unfortunately, your credibility is low and I am not inclined to place much value on your claim.

What does a hate crimes bill have to do with limiting Church teaching?


Amazing how quiet the ACLU is on this bill now that the text that was supposedly in there to protect free speech has been removed.


Because of this new law, we Christians have now lost one of our principal weapons in battling the homosexual agenda in this country. It is true that this bill does not prevent ministerial or layman free speech against homosexuality in terms of it being immoral per scripture. The law does not do that, as has been claimed by many on the Religious Right.

It does blunt and completely unhinge what sociologists and anthropologists refer to with the technical term "social sanction." For those who are against homosexuality (inside the church or outside of it), one of the most powerfully wielded social sanctions was the ability to CREATE, NURTURE, or PUMP UP the persistent perception of physical danger to the homosexual community---their fear that someone might listen really closely to a sermon and decide it was finally time to go beat up or kill a queer down on the street corner at midnight. Now, any Christian minister worth his salt would deny any such mental intent. You have to remember the whole purpose of preaching, no matter what the specific subject, is to get the congregation and anyone listening ALL WORKED UP, AGITATED, AND MOTIVATED. Christians would claim that no man of the cloth intends to motivate someone to actually commit battery or murder---and rightly so. Yet, I would find it hard to believe that ministers are unaware that their talk insights and maintains the persistent fear of being physically harmed within homosexuals and that they view this as as a subtle, substantial, and useful social sanction in the Christian arsenal.

That useful sanction will be taken away when Obama signs the hate crimes bill. Ministers will still be able to orate and flail vigorously against the homosexual agenda and will continue to do so. What will have been transferred ot changed is the LOCATION of the fear. Whereas the location of the fear of getting beaten up or killed was on the homosexual community before, this law effectively transfers that fear to those who would do the beating up and killing, and in so doing, it defangs the rhetoric of those churches who have so long silently and passively benefited from the propogation of that fear of violence and murder within the homosexual community.

So, speaking as a Christian, the pre-passage campaign about limiting pastor free speech was and still is a hollow and ridiculous public relations tool with no truth to it. The barebones truth is that this bill that Mr. Obama is about to sign is a MASSIVE DEFEAT for conservative Christians because the ability to nurture and manipulate fear of receiving physical harm or death for one's sins in this world and its ability to sanctionally "clamp down" on and delimit the homosexual agenda has been lost, lost, lost.

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