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The House of Representatives has voted to urge a conference committee to add “sexual orientation, gender and disability” to federal hate-crimes law, a development some observers say would muzzle Christians who speak out against homosexuality.

On Sept. 28, the House voted 213-186 to pass a procedural motion encouraging a conference committee to include the hate-crimes legislation in the final version of the Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4200).

In June, Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced the new language meant to protect homosexuals as an amendment to the Senate’s version of the Defense Authorization Act. The Senate measured passed by a vote of 65-33.

The bill imposes special fines for those who commit a “hate crime” against a protected class and provides federal assistance to those prosecuting such crimes. Existing hate-crimes law provides federal help to states and localities in prosecuting crimes based only on the victim’s race, religion or national origin.

Christian activists believe that if passed and signed into law, the legislation could be used to target Americans who voice their opposition to the homosexual lifestyle – including pastors preaching and reading the Bible.

“Passage would literally throw open the door to attacks against people of faith, who could be prosecuted with federal monies for expressing their views on homosexuality!” warns Gary Cass, executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America.

Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, says if it becomes law the legislation could be used to “muzzle public discussion of homosexuality and even someday silence pastors.”

Knight commented, “It’s a very dangerous bill, because it adds ‘sexual orientation’ to hate-crimes law, and it greatly expands federal jurisdiction.

“If your grandmother is mugged, it won’t be a big deal [unless she is a lesbian],” Knight said. “And the law-enforcement authorities may have to put more of their revenues toward the mugging, say, of a homosexual guy walking down the street. Both deserve protection, but certainly the gay guy doesn’t deserve more than your grandmother.”

Wrote Knight in a WorldNetDaily column: “Homosexual activists have redefined any opposition to homosexuality as ‘hate speech.’ Laws already criminalize speech that incites violence. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which any incident involving a homosexual can be blamed on people who have publicly opposed homosexual activism.”

Because it offers special protection to specific class of people, the legislation “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Cass stated.

The Human Rights Campaign hailed last week’s House vote.

“Congress should work to protect Americans, not discriminate against them,” said HRC President Cheryl Jacques. “We laud Congress for this vote, especially Minority Leader Pelosi for offering this motion and working to get the overwhelming support of her peers. We urge conference committee members to take it to heart – keep the federal hate-crimes bill in conference committee.”

According to HRC, the House passed a similar motion in September 2000 by a 232-192 vote, but that amendment was removed in conference committee. The homosexual-advocacy group claims the new hate-crimes language has been endorsed by more than 175 law-enforcement, civil-rights, civic and religious organizations.

As WorldNetDaily reported, a new law was passed in Canada that adds sexual orientation as a protected category in the nation’s genocide and hate-crimes legislation, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Opponents of the new law fear the Bible will be deemed “hate literature” under the criminal code in certain instances, as evidenced by the case of a Saskatchewan man fined by a provincial human-rights tribunal for taking out a newspaper ad with Scripture references to verses about homosexuality.

Earlier this year in Sweden, which also has strict hate-crimes laws, a pastor was arrested at his church after he began reading Bible verses condemning homosexuality.

Some states have included sexual orientation in their state hate-crimes laws. Last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill expanding that state’s statute to include not only homosexuals and transgendered people but also people who merely associate with those who are part of a protected class.

“While every hate crime represents a personal tragedy for the victim, hate crimes also are an attempt to intimidate a larger group or community of people,” the bills’ author, Senator Sheila Kuehl, told 365gay.com. “Hate crimes tear at the fabric of our society and it is important that we have a strong and effective response to them.”

In Pennsyvlania, pastors are concerned they could be targeted under that state’s new hate-crimes law, which added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as motives that trigger heavier penalties for the crime of “harassment.”

The Center for Reclaiming America is urging citizens to contact the House members and senators who are on the conference committee to ask them to remove the hate-crimes language from the final bill.

A spokeswoman from the House Armed Services Committee told WND the conference committee’s goal is to finalize the bill by Friday, the day Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the month.

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