April 12, 2007

Contact: media@dcaclu.org

Washington – The American Civil Liberties Union today cheered Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) for introducing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA). This legislation will expand the ability of federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute criminal civil rights violations when state or local authorities are unwilling or unable to do so.

This new hate crimes bill is especially significant because it marks the first time the ACLU has been able to offer its full support to hate crimes legislation introduced in the Senate. Unlike in previous years, this legislation balances the desire for a strong federal response to criminal civil rights violations with clear protections for free speech and free association.

“The ACLU has a long record of support for both free speech and civil rights, and we are delighted to support a bill that doesn’t sacrifice one in favor of another. It punishes acts of discrimination, not bigoted beliefs,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This bill demonstrates that it’s possible to vigorously pursue criminal civil rights violations without chilling our First Amendment rights.”

The LLECHPA punishes only the conduct of intentionally targeting another person for violence because of that person’s race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It allows bigoted speech or association with hate groups to be admitted as evidence only if it is directly related to the crime. The provision will stop the temptation for prosecutors to rely on “guilt by association” with groups whose bigoted views we may all find repugnant, but which may have had no role in committing the violent act.

“We’re extremely pleased to be able to offer our support to this important legislation,” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Current law provides no protection to individuals targeted for violence based on their race, color, national origin, or religion, except in certain limited circumstances. It offers no protection at all for individuals targeted due to their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. State and local law enforcement officers are sometimes unwilling or unable to prosecute such crimes due to inadequate resources or their own bias against the victim. In these instances, the federal government clearly has an enforcement duty, to ensure that all individuals are provided equal protection under the law.”

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