From the Baltimore Sun
This most unusual Christian coalition is between Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and many African American clergyman. Though there is often a wide gap between them, this and in some instances NCLB and/or vouchers really do make “The Saints Come Marching In!”
Proponents say the bill – similar to one the Senate is expected to pass in the next few weeks – is a moral imperative. But some Christians are depicting it as a “thought crimes” bill attacking 1st Amendment freedoms of speech and religion. A coalition of evangelical, fundamentalist and black religious leaders is mounting a furious assault on the bill, airing television ads and mobilizing members to stop its progress. President Bush has said he might veto the measure.
This is a tough one to call as it has equally compelling arguements for its passage and its rejection. I’m already using my legal eye on this bill, because I can’t see this one not eventually becoming a tune for the Supremes to sing. The level of support would make a veto interesting as this is a bill does cut across party lines, and enjoys broader support than the recent, and only second veto of the Bush Administration. Is this bill worth the political exchange of coin, must be on the President’s mind.
“This legislation strikes at the heart of free speech and freedom of religious expression,” said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition. “Statements critical of sexual orientation or gender identity can be prosecuted if those statements were part of the motivation of a person committing a crime against a homosexual or cross-dresser.”
The bill’s supporters say that such an assertion is nonsense, and that a sermon could never be considered an inducement to violence unless it explicitly advocated it.
While to a reasonable mind, it is hard to imagine that any sermon would advocate hurting a person based on sexual preference, or any other factor, one must remember that there are many voices of hate using the guise of religion to score points. This is in no way to state that anywhere near a majority or plurality of the members of this crusade are of such view, but having been raised within the Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Charasmatic culture, I have heard a few interesting things in my time. I also have little faith in the statement made by proponents that they would go after free speech. Someone stating a position such as “homosexuals are condemned to hell” could be construed in the minds of some prosecuting a case, as a an intent to give spiritual license to promote giving such people a head start to that destination. As little as I trust the capacity of people to arrive to false conclusions based upon what “they heard”, I hold an equally distrustful view of giving the state license to link criminal intent to words of one party to actions of another party. I have great faith in the creativity of lawyers to create crime and intent, particularly prosecutors, as it is in their interest to do so.
Hoyer, House majority leader, said before the vote that the bill was necessary “because brutal hate crimes motivated by race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and identity or disability not only injure individual victims, but also terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our nation’s social fabric.”
Again, one must look at some of the crimes being committed, and happily the number of crimes such as those brought horrifically upon Matthew Sheppard and other victims, may not qualify as “entire segments” of the population, as asserted by Rep. Hoyer.
Opponents argue that the bill is un-American, in that it effectively creates a two-tiered justice system. In defining only certain groups as legal victims of hate, many argued, the law’s supporters were leaving out other categories of people deserving of protection, such as members of the military, pregnant women and the elderly. An amendment to add these groups to the hate crimes law failed in the House shortly before the bill’s passage.
Onemust wonder why these groups are excluded. Wouldn’t rape if a man said, I’d like to have a piece of that, or the attacking of American servicemen, after calling them slurs or spitting upon them, which has happened, in the former far too frequently, and in the latter, at a shockinginly rising rate, qualify as hatred based upon another factor?
“All violent crime is tied to hate in some way,”said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, another conservative group opposing the measure. “The Virginia Tech shooter said in his diatribe that he hated rich kids. Well, rich kids aren’t protected in this hate crime bill. If we’re going to start choosing categories of people for additional penalties when they’re victimized, where does the list end?”
This assertion, perhaps the best summation of the case against this law, and a case will come if it is signed into Federal law.
All violent crime should be punished harshly. The aspect of retribution is an inherent part of any legal system dating back to Hamurabbi. The right of the state to mete out punishment to show its collective ire at those who would dispense harm or other felonious acts towards “any” member of society must be restated. In a perfect world, Federal assets would be applied to all victims of violent felonies.
However, that doesn’t mean this legislation is not without merit, or unreasonable. If signed, and I don’t forsee doomsday for Free Speech if it does, I do see a very long and possibly negative Judicial Review forthcoming. Those Supremes tend to take the First Amendment pretty seriously, and if you remember your history, the Founding Fathers didn’t mind to let the fur fly, at least with regards to speech.