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A controversial law long pushed by homosexual activists but decried by one key congressman as an “unprecedented move to regulate and criminalize thoughts” may be headed for the Supreme Court.

The federal “Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009,” signed into law by President Obama, enhances penalties for “hate crimes” deemed to be motivated by “actual or perceived sexual orientation” of a victim.

The American Freedom Law Center announced today it has asked the high court to review a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that Michigan pastors who preached the biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior were not protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“There is no doubt that this federal criminal statute violates the First Amendment on its face,” said Robert Muise of AFLC. “Thus, the act chills the exercise of free speech, specifically the free speech of our clients, who speak out against homosexuality. This chilling effect is sufficient to confer standing to challenge the act as a matter of law.”

David Yerushalmi, co-founder and senior counsel of AFLC, said “criminalizing religious opposition to homosexuality while elevating those who engage in homosexual acts to a protected class under federal law is a clear violation of the Constitution and a frightening abuse of federal power.”

AFLC said it has filed a petition to the high court asking for the review.

The case contends that the “hate crimes” law violates the plaintiffs’ civil rights, since it opens Christians to becoming the target of federal investigations, grand juries and even criminal charges just for opposing or publicly criticizing the homosexual lifestyle and “gay” activism.

The petition points out that all 50 states already have laws punishing violence, and that, as Attorney General Eric Holder himself has admitted, there is no evidence that “hate crimes” go unpunished at the state level. In 2008, of the 1.38 million violent crimes reported, only 243 dealt with the victim’s sexual orientation.

The Hate Crimes Act was dubbed by its critics the “Pedophile Protection Act” after an amendment to explicitly prohibit pedophiles from being protected by the act was defeated by majority Democrats. During congressional debate, supporters argued that all “philias,” or alternative sexual lifestyles, should be protected.

The case originated with the Thomas More Law Center, with whom Muise previously worked.

It was in 2010 that Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, and Michigan-based pastors Levon Yuille, Rene Ouellette and James Combs filed the action against Holder.

The pastors explained that as Christian leaders with a duty to teach God’s Word on moral issues such as homosexuality, they have “willfully” and actively engaged in expressive conduct regarding the morality of homosexuality – conduct that could subject them to investigation and prosecution under the Hate Crimes Act, which does not limit its prohibitions to physical acts of violence, AFLC said.

But judges to date have said such a threat of investigation, prosecution and jail time doesn’t mean that the pastors have grounds to pursue a challenge.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has supported the challenge, stating in a letter: “I want to commend you for your courage to challenge the constitutionality of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. As a Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, I worked hard to stop this legislation in committee and on the floor of the House of Representatives. … Like you, I believe this ‘Hate Crimes’ Act is unconstitutional and marks an unprecedented move to regulate and criminalize thoughts.”

At the appellate level, the plaintiffs argued: “According to the Bible, which plaintiffs promote through their religious activities, homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity that are intrinsically disordered. The Apostle Paul, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares that those who engage in homosexual acts ‘shall not inherit the kingdom of God,’ stating further, ‘And such were some of you … ‘” the appeal explained.

“Plaintiffs believe and profess that homosexuality is an illicit lust forbidden by God, who said to His people Israel, ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.’ In every place that the Bible refers to homosexuality, the emphasis is upon the perversion of sexuality. The person engaging in homosexual behavior is guilty of ‘leaving the natural use of the woman,’ meaning that his behavior is ‘against nature,’ and thus contrary to God’s will.

“In Old Testament times in Israel, God dealt severely with those who engaged in homosexual behavior. He warned His people through Moses, ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,” the appeal continued.

Yuille is the pastor of The Bible Church in Michigan and national director of the National Black Pro-Life Congress. He hosts a radio program and “is often warned by his Canadian listeners that he will prosecuted under the new U.S. hate-crimes law for his public ministry.”

Ouellette is pastor of First Baptist in Bridgeport, Mich., with about 7,000 members, and the author of five books.

Combs is lead pastor of Faith Church, The Point Church, The Rock Church and The River Church, with about 10,000 members.

Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October 2009 after Democrats strategically attached it to a “must-pass” $680 billion defense-appropriations bill.

The law cracks down on any actions that could be linked to criticism of homosexuality or even the “perception” of homosexuality. As Congress debated it, there were assurances it would not be used to restrict free speech.

Obama boasted about the “hate crimes” bill when he signed it into law.

“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.

The bill signed by Obama was opposed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which called it a “menace” to civil liberties. The commission argued the law allows federal authorities to bring charges against individuals even if they’ve already been cleared in a state court.

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