ACLU Cheers House Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation

May 3, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC - The American Civil Liberties Union today cheered the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, with strong bipartisan support. This legislation would allow federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes offenses in cases where local law enforcement lacks the resources, or in some cases the willingness to do so.

For the first time, the ACLU was able to announce its full support for hate crimes legislation. In the past, the organization has not been able to support hate crime bills because they were written in a way that threatened constitutionally protected speech. But the legislation introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) shows that it is possible to protect targets of hate crimes without jeopardizing free speech or association rights.

"Prosecuting violent hate crimes is critically important. This bill will also protect due process and the Constitution, especially our First Amendment rights to speak freely and associate with whom we’d like," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "When a person inflicts violence based on hate, it is important that they be punished. But defendants must have a fair trial, and should not be judged based on what they say and the company they keep, unless specifically related to the crime. While we may disagree with some people’s speech, it must be protected or all of our speech is at risk. "

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability still occur every day. H.R. 1592 will help to ensure that hate crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted.

"It’s vital that hate crime legislation bans prosecutors from introducing evidence of hate speech or membership in groups with bigoted beliefs unless they are specifically related to the crime," said ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders. H.R. 1592 includes explicit protection for speech and association, unless it specifically relates to a violent crime. "H.R. 1592 fully protects both civil rights and free speech. In fact, the new hate crimes bill has stronger protections for free speech than any other federal criminal law now on the books. The House has acted quickly, and we urge the Senate to follow suit."

The ACLU’s letter to House of Representatives, urging their support for H.R. 1592, is available at:

/lgbt/crimjustice/29600leg20070502.html

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