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A “hate crimes” bill opponents claim will be used to crack down on Christian speech, even the reading of the Bible, was signed into law today by President Obama.

The Senate approved the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a vote of 68-29 on Oct. 22 after Democrats strategically attached it to a “must-pass” $680 billion defense appropriations plan.

Most Republicans, although normally strong supporters of the U.S. military, opposed the bill because it hands out federal money to states and local governments in pursuit of “preventing” hate crimes. The bill creates federal protections and privileges for homosexuals and other alternative lifestyles but denies those protections to other groups of citizens.

Obama signed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act at a White House ceremony today. Prior to signing the act into law, Obama spoke briefly of the hate-crimes bill.

“After more than a decade, we’ve passed inclusive hate-crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are,” he said. “I promised Judy Shepard when she saw me in the Oval Office that this day would come, and I’m glad that she and her husband, Dennis, could join us for this event. I’m also honored to have the family of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation. I just want you all to know how proud we are of the work that Ted did to help make this day possible.”

American Family Association President Tim Wildmon warned that the new law “creates a kind of caste system in law enforcement, where the perverse thing is that people who engage in nonnormative sexual behavior will have more legal protection than heterosexuals. This kind of inequality before the law is simply un-American.”

Wildmon said the legislation creates possible situations where pastors may be arrested if their sermons on sexuality can be linked in even the remotest way to acts of violence.

“It threatens free speech and freedom of religion and is totally unacceptable,” he said.

As WND reported, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder admitted a homosexual activist who is attacked following a Christian minister’s sermon about homosexuality would be protected by the proposed federal law, but a minister attacked by a homosexual wouldn’t be.

The Alliance Defense Fund blasted the “hate-crimes” bill, calling it “another nail in the coffin of the First Amendment.”

“All violent crimes are hate crimes, and all crime victims deserve equal justice,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said in a statement. “This law is a grave threat to the First Amendment because it provides special penalties based on what people think, feel or believe. ADF will be on the front line to defend those whose free speech or free exercise of religion rights are violated by this unconstitutional law and to ultimately overturn this attack on freedom.”

Opponents point to cases in Canada and Sweden, where Christians have faced criminal prosecution for preaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

“ADF has clearly seen the evidence of where ‘hate crimes’ legislation leads when it has been tried around the world: It paves the way for the criminalization of speech that is not deemed ‘politically correct,’” Stanley explained. “‘Hate crimes’ laws fly in the face of the underlying purpose of the First Amendment, which was designed specifically to protect unpopular speech.”

Stanley said such crimes are already punishable under existing federal, state and local laws.

“Bills of this sort are designed to forward a political agenda and silence critics, not combat actual crime,” he said. “The bottom line is that we do not need a law that creates second-class victims in America and that gives the government the opportunity to ignore the First Amendment.”

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, testified before Congress against the hate-crimes bill in 2007.

“It is fundamentally unjust for the government to treat some crime victims more favorably than others, just because they are homosexual or transsexual,” Dacus said. “This bill is an unnecessary federal intrusion into state law-enforcement authority, and it is an unwise step toward silencing religious and moral viewpoints.”

He said the adoption of hate-crimes legislation has led to widespread suppression of speech deemed politically incorrect. The Pacific Justice Institute noted that in California, hate-crimes laws are commonly invoked as a basis for further laws pushing acceptance of homosexuality in public schools and the workplace. The group also warned that use of “hate speech” terminology is also now being employed by minority religious groups in America to encourage suppression of free speech, as a prominent Hindu group called on Congress and major Internet service providers to shut down websites critical of Hinduism, including websites of Christian mission organizations.

The Pacific Justice Institute pledged to come to defend anyone who is prosecuted under the new hate-crimes law because of their religious expression.

Liberty Counsel litigation counsel Matt Krause told WND, “It’s a very sad day for America and for religious liberties in general.”

He said the law will not deter crime or help the law-enforcement system.

“The only thing it will do is silence and scare Christians and religious organizations,” Krause said. “It will penalize thoughts and actions, and it will not stop crime. It should be called the ‘thought-crimes’ bill.”

He continued, “We encourage pastors and church leaders to keep doing what they’re doing and preach the gospel. If they run into any barriers, they can contact us because we are ready and willing to defend them in any way we need to.”

The White House announced it will host a reception this evening to commemorate the enactment of the hate-crimes legislation. Obama’s remarks will be aired live on the White House website.


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