Hate Crimes Legislation Update

As a follow-up to my previous post, I see (via The Associated Press)  that H.R. 1913 passed through the House decisively today with a vote of 249-175.  For those of you don't know what H.R. 1913 is; it is an extension to our existing hate crimes laws that allows federal funds to be provided to local agencies to prosecute crimes of prejudice.  The Religious Right has their pants in a bunch because it includes 'gender identity' and 'sexual orientation' to the list of classes protected by hate crime laws.  Probably the most telling synopsis of the conservative opposition to this bill came from bill supporter Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.,:
"I wonder if our friends on the other side of the aisle would be singing the same offensive tune if we were talking about hate crimes based on race or religion," she said, referring to Republican opponents. "It seems to me it is the category of individuals that they are offended by, rather than the fact that we have hate crimes laws at all."
How very true Rep. Wasserman.  I have come to think that hate crime laws can't really affect the rates of crime for things that are already illegal anyway.  I feel the greatest benefit of this bill is the the religious right must talk openly and loudly about their position on homosexuality and why they didn't have a problem with the same laws that didn't include homosexuals.  They have to lay it on the table for all the world to see (not that it has been a secret), that they feel there there are some groups that it is OK to persecute.  So; if it makes the Religious Right spastic and desperate (i.e. claiming it offers protection to pedophiles!!!....WTF?!?), then at least THAT is some good that comes out of it.

Is Religious Anti-Gay Speech a Hate Crime?

At this writing; House Resolution 1913 had just passed Judiciary Committee review and will, ostensibly, appear on the House floor for debate at some point. The nature of the resolution leads me to believe that it would then be voted on as a bill that would somewhat expand our existing Hate Crimes laws. The terse description of this reads as follow:

To provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes.

This comes to my attention because of the flurry of e-mails from conservative Christian organizations that are up in arms saying that it will stifle their free speech and keep them from promoting the biblical view on homosexuality. My initial reaction is that anything that makes the butt's of the religious right pucker must be a good thing, but I wanted to investigate further.

 In reading this bill, it expands our existing laws that recognize violence based on prejudice against gender, race, color, religion, national origin, or disability to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The operative word here is 'violence' and there is no mention of speech. The bill would (in my reading) merely apply different sentencing guidelines to violent acts that are already illegal.

 Contemplating the bill, several questions come to mind:

  1. Can hate crime laws actually reduce violent crimes on the part of xenophobes? My opinion is that the fear of those that are not like ourselves is a most primitive and instinctual reaction and probably served ancient man well (in a survival context). It is our higher intellect that allows us to recognize our innate xenophobia and overcome it. Will someone resist killing an immigrant because they will get 25 years in prison as opposed to 20 years? Will someone be uniquely shamed for killing another because they were motivated by bigotry instead of more pedestrian reasons? …I think not.
  2. Can organized inculcation/indoctrination of large groups in the persecution of some minority (i.e. left-handed individuals, Hispanics, homosexuals) rise to the level of a 'violent' crime even in the absence of physical violence?

The latter of these two points seems to be what is getting the religious right's pants in a bunch. It is being portrayed as making it illegal to speak against homosexuality in church. Despite my sooooo wishing we could make organized persecution of a minority a shameful practice (well…actually it already is), I don't believe that, constitutionally, there would be solid grounds to make it against the law. I believe it could easily be argued that the practice is immoral; we would be hard pressed to make it illegal. 

I would guess the best we could hope for is that organized persecution would be looked down on in that same way that adultery is looked down upon. That said; while I now think that even our existing hate-crimes laws are feel-good legislation, I will support H.R. 1913 just to scare the religious right despite thinking that it poses no threat to them.

UPDATE (28 Apr 09): This morning I got an e-mail from the American Family Association that said (among other things) 

"Congress is set to give legally protected status to 30 sexual orientations, including incest."

I also see that Liberty Counsel (whoever they are) is extoling how this bill will protect pedophiles.

(I purposely did not link to their sites to avoid inadvertently promoting them)

Are these people serious?!?!  They are either intellectually stunted or stunningly desperate. 

The Godless Threat - The Godly Threat - Oh The Irony!

For all of the bluster of the religious right; I have heard nothing of the stunning irony that the our most feared cold-war enemy...the enemy that most wanted to destroy our way of life...the 'godless communists'...has been replaced with the most supremely godly people around.