Chris Johnson at HRC Back Story reports that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture motion to force a vote on S. 1105. We need 60 votes in order to override the objection filed by Tool McCain to prevent bringing it to the floor. As you might recall, the hate crimes bill was tacked onto the defense authorization bill.

Lead sponsor of the Senate bill, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) released a statement of his floor speech urging passage of S. 1105.

Expect shrill nonsense from the usual suspects. Fundies tokens like Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson (where was he on Jena?), bleated  this bigoted nonsense out:

A black conservative leader is calling on Christians to contact their U.S. senators and ask them to vote against a bill that would give special rights to homosexuals and take away the rights of Christians.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson is founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND). Peterson was recently in Washington, DC, to lobby senators to vote against Senate Bill 1105 — a bill that would provide federal assistance for the prosecution of any crime that is “motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim.” The legislation is sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).

According to Peterson, if S.B. 1105 ultimately passes, it would greatly affect Christians' free-speech rights. For example, Peterson contends that under the new provisions, Christian pastors could be forced to perform same-sex “marriages” — and if they refuse, Petersen is convinced they will be criminalized and fined.

Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition and Cornel West have a piece in the Boston Globe that takes on the religious hate machine.

Unfortunately, some clergy across the nation have joined together to oppose this bill in an aggressive and divisive manner. For instance, conservative African-American leaders – most notably Bishop Harry Jackson of Maryland's Hope Christian Church – have been inundating the media and faith communities with the message that this legislation will allow police to storm into worship services and arrest clergy if they speak against being gay. They make the incendiary allegation that the bill will create “thought crimes” by punishing people for thinking ill of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The truth is that the Matthew Shepard Act protects all First Amendment rights. And, although that is a given, this bill goes out of its way to protect the free speech of ministers. Those pastors who wish to continue condemning and dehumanizing the gay community will be free to do so.

The hate crimes bill provides resources for the investigation of violent actions – not beliefs, thoughts, or words. The proposed federal statute does not punish nor prohibit free expression of one's religious beliefs. As University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone recently concluded, “The argument of the pastors that the proposed legislation in any way threatens their right to preach their version of the Gospel is, to be frank, ridiculous.”

…These preachers don't care to hear the thousands of stories of lives and communities scarred by antigay violence. And, conveniently, those who bring up the reality that the Matthew Shepard Act is a constitutional and important means to prevent antigay violence are labeled by these clergy as “anti-Christian.” The good intentions of this legislation have been greeted by malice by these manipulators of fact.

The efforts of antigay preachers and their supporters is not the way to create the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a “Beloved Community” – where we all strive to treat each other with respect and compassion.

That said, the bible beaters know how to phone, fax and fill email the boxes of their senators. We can too.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding