House Rebuffs Claims Of Religious Right In Hate-Crimes Vote

Spurning protests by Religious Right groups, the House of Representatives on May 3 passed legislation extending hate-crimes protections to people victimized because of their sexual orientation.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1592) passed 237-180. Its approval marked a stinging defeat for the Religious Right, which had rallied its supporters to stop the bill.

Some groups resorted to lurid rhetoric and reckless claims. The Rev. Louis P. Shel­don of the Traditional Values Coa­li­tion dubbed the measure a “Pro-Homo­sexual/Drag Queen ‘Hate Crime’ Bill” and insisted that it would “lay the legal framework to persecute and prosecute those who refuse, for moral and religious reasons, to agree or teach their children that homosexuality, transgender, cross-dressing, etc is normal and desirable.”

Sheldon charged that the bill will lead to “the persecutions of Christians” and even went so far as to assert, “if [the Act is] passed, the public reading of certain passages from the Bible will be illegal.”

During an April 17 press conference in Washington, Sheldon recruited U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) to attack the bill. Gohmert invoked the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech the day before, asserting that hate-crimes legislation makes some victims “more important” than others. Gays, Gohmert insisted, would receive more protection than the students murdered at Virginia Tech because the students “only” suffered a random act of violence.

Others piled on. An e-mail from Rick Scarborough’s Vision America asserted, “This legislation would criminalize Christianity in action – such as speaking in support of traditional marriage, biblical morality and family values.”

In an alert to members, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council asserted, “An offender’s religious opinions about hom­osexuality could therefore be on trial and special punishments rendered against him.”

These claims fly in the face of the bill’s actual language. The measure’s concluding section specifically states: “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amend­ment to the Constitution.”

Having lost in the House, the Rel­ig­ious Right is now lobbying the Senate to reject the bill. Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action has vowed to send a petition with 250,000 names to the Senate. The groups are also imploring Pres­i­dent George W. Bush to veto the measure.