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A Hate Crimes Bill that Protects Speech, But Punishes Acts

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July 18, 2007

Hate crime legislation has always trod a thin line between punishing criminal acts, and punishing thought or speech: some legislation punishes both at the same time. As a strong defender of free speech, the ACLU has opposed most hate crime legislation in the past. But a new bill in the Senate, filed by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), is the first hate crime bill in the Senate that has the ACLU’s full support. Chris Anders of the ACLU’s Legislative Office writes in today:

The Kennedy-Smith amendment is the right approach. It punishes violence based on specific characteristics, but makes clear that no one will ever end up punished because of a book once read, a meeting once attended, or membership in a club, church, or any other association – unless those activities were directly related to the violent crime itself.

To get involved, please email your senators and ask them to support this bill, dubbed the Matthew Shepard Act, after hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered in 1998 for his sexual orientation.

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