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The truth about the federal hate crimes legislation and free speech

It’s so tiring to hear the fundies breathlessly hysterical over the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA) before Congress. They are spinning that it is going to result in the persecution of Christians and the death of Christianity.

After all, religion is one of the categories protected by current hate crimes statutes, but all of a sudden the alarmists at outlets like Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council are e-blasting their supporters about how their free speech rights and religious freedom are at risk if the federal law is expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director for the Traditional Values Coalition, bloviated as if the world would come to an end if it passes, saying that she predictsMost Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs.” She also came completely unhinged when she asserted this:

“The fact is that Conyers’ so-called hate crimes bill is a fraud and designed for only one purpose: to add homosexuals, cross-dressers drag queens and transsexuals as federally-protected minority groups. There is no `epidemic’ of hate crimes – and no mass migration of homosexuals and cross-dressers across state lines.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is certain that homosexual activists will silence “Christians” with the law, with the “federal thought police” knocking at their doors.

That’s funny, the ACLU, always concerned about free speech rights, supports the hate crimes bill because it protects First Amendment rights of free speech and free association. See snippets of the letter sent to Congress after the jump.Rachel Perrone, senior legislative communications associate at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office passed along this pertinent section that

III.  The New Bill Provides Strong Protection of Free Speech

  The ACLU has a long record of support for stronger protection of both free speech and civil rights.  Those positions are not inconsistent.  In fact, vigilant protection of free speech rights historically has opened the doors to effective advocacy for expanded civil rights protections.

  Fourteen years ago, the ACLU submitted a brief to the Supreme Court urging the Court to uphold a Wisconsin hate crime sentencing enhancement statute as constitutional.  However, the ACLU also asked the Court “to set forth a clear set of rules governing the use of such statutes in the future.”  The ACLU warned the Court that “if the state is not able to prove that a defendant’s speech is linked to specific criminal behavior, the chances increase that the state’s hate crime prosecution is politically inspired.”  The evidentiary provision in the House bill will help avoid that harm.

  The ACLU appreciates the sponsors’ inclusion of the evidentiary provision that prevents the hate crimes legislation from having any potentially chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.  The evidentiary subsection in the bill provides that:

  Evidence of expression or association of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense.  However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing the impeachment of a witness.

This provision will reduce or eliminate the possibility that the federal government could obtain a criminal conviction on the basis of evidence of speech that had no role in the chain of events that led to any alleged violent act proscribed by the statute.

The full letter is here.

Related:
* ‘When Homophobes Bear False Witness’

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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