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Obama Lauds Free Speech Protections in House Hate Crimes Bill

Christopher Anders,
Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Democracy and Technology,
American Civil Liberties Union
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April 30, 2009

What a difference an evening has made for hate crimes!

Late the night of April 28, 2009, the White House released a statement by President Barack Obama in support of a House bill to strengthen protections against hate crimes. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute violence against a person based on race, color, religion and national origin as well as expand protections to victims who are targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identify or disability.

It was particularly encouraging to read that Obama noted the House bill preserves the right to free speech and association:

I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance — legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association.

With these First Amendment protections, this legislation prevents the use of speech and association not specifically related to a crime. In fact, the bill would have the strongest language in the federal criminal code that protects against the misuse of an individuals free speech.

Now the big question is whether or not the Senate follows the example set by the House and passes a hate crimes bill that expands protections for free speech and association as well as civil rights.

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