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Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed legislation that gives homosexuals specific, statewide legal protection for the first time, prompting some to predict that pastors in the state will now be targeted for preaching against the “gay” lifestyle.
The bill, which passed the House on Tuesday by a vote of 118 to 79, adds ”ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity” to the state’s Ethnic Intimidation law, which already raises the grade of crimes motivated by hatred against victims because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
According to a report in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the vote came after a 90-minute debate in which opponents argued the proposal violates the principle of “equal justice for all.”
”With this law, we’re stripping away the blindfold which has been used for centuries to indicate that Lady Justice doesn’t see the person who committed the crime but is only considering the facts,” said Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Landisburg.
”We should be looking at the crime … not trying to decide what the thoughts were of the perpetrator,” he added.
Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks, said that it’s too difficult for law enforcement to determine how broadly the new terms under ethnic intimidation can be applied.
Opponents worry the law could be enforced too liberally to include, among other things, preachers quoting passages from the Bible against homosexual activity.
William Devlin, of the Urban Family Council, sees it the same way.
”We would strongly encourage pastors, churches and church leadership across Pennsylvania to obtain some very good liability insurance and contact an attorney if the pastor intends to continue faithfully preaching the Word,” Devlin told WorldNetDaily.
He says although hate-crimes legislation isn’t unusual, a bill that specifically mentions speech and verbal harassment with ”malicious intent” is unusual.
”This bill is so broad, that if you have an attender at your church who feels offended or intimidated by what is said from the pulpit, you and your church leadership will be receiving certified letters inviting you to either a deposition or a court appearance,” he said.
Devlin also tells WorldNetDaily he finds it curious the bill was promoted by conservative Republicans.
Stewart Greenleaf, the chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, personally guided the legislation. According to Devlin, Greenleaf is a born-again Christian and former deacon in the Presbyterian Church of America.
Devlin says House Majority Leader John Perzel, who’s known as a conservative, pro-family Republican, also helped clear the way for the bill’s passage.
Advocates say Pennsylvania now has the most inclusive legislation of this kind in the country and hailed the legislature’s action as a breakthrough for principles of tolerance and social justice.
”Our allies have shown that they recognize the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in this commonwealth,” said Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.
”We are taxpayers. We work in Pennsylvania and we have families here,” Sobel said. ”This law acknowledges the importance of our communities and the fact that our state will not tolerate violence against homosexuals merely because of who they are.”
The bill, which passed the Senate last year, 32-15, now heads for the desk of Gov. Mark Schweiker, who has promised to sign it.