Religion in Society

New Hate Crime Bill Could Silence Conservative Preachers

| by Pacific Justice Institute

WASHINGTON --- A federal hate crimes bill heavily criticized by religious liberty advocates moved a step closer to becoming law today after being approved on a vote of 15-12 by the House Judiciary Committee. The bill, H.R. 1913, will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The Judiciary Committee rejected a number of amendments offered by several congressman seeking to protect religious liberty, to protect the unborn, to protect against violence by illegal aliens, and to clarify the bill's meanings of "gender identity” and “sexual orientation." One of the rejected amendments, offered by Congressman Gohmert of Texas, sought to ensure that ministers could not be prosecuted for abetting a hate crime simply because they preach from the Bible or other holy book.

Two years ago, when the federal hate crimes bill was first proposed, Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, testified against it before the House Judiciary Committee. Dacus cited a number of problems with the bill, particularly its tendency to chill the free speech of religious ministers. At that time, the bill was prevented from becoming law primarily because President Bush opposed it. Now that President Obama has announced his support for hate crimes legislation, as part of his wide-ranging push for greater gay rights, the bill has been resurrected and is making its initial push through Congress.

PJI President Brad Dacus commented, "The federal hate crimes bill is bad news for everyone. Instead of treating all crime victims equally, it creates a caste system where select groups, such as gays and lesbians, are given greater priority in the criminal justice system. This is not progress; it is political correctness. In other nations and states, the adoption of hate crimes legislation has been the first step toward widespread suppression of speech and ideas critical of homosexuality. We will be closely monitoring HR 1913 as it moves through Congress and speaking out for freedom of speech and thought."

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