Federal Legislation
October 2, 2007

S. 1105—Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007

Action Requested:
HSLDA will continue monitoring this legislation and provide updates as the bill moves through the Senate.

Background:
S. 1105 is the Senate version of H.R. 1592, a federal hate crimes bill. It will (1) create for the first time a federal hate crime defined as “bodily injury to any person or …attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person”; (2) provide federal support to state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies if the agency requests federal support in prosecuting hate crimes; and (3) authorize the federal government to prosecute hate crimes if a state does not intend to prosecute the crime, or if the verdict or sentence under state charges “left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”

This bill has been proposed as an amendment to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008). We shall continue to monitor this legislation’s movement.

This bill is problematic for many reasons:

(1) It is unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment requires that all citizens be given equal treatment under the law. Hate crimes laws create special classes of victims and do not treat all victims fairly.

(2) It could ultimately lead to prosecution for thoughts and restrictions on free speech and religious liberty. Although H.R. 1592 prosecutes only “acts of violence” and does not prosecute expressions or opinions, it opens the door to examining the thoughts of not only a criminal, but everyone with whom he may have come into contact. An overzealous prosecutor could turn a criminal prosecution into a political correctness prosecution. Broadly written hate crimes bills in other states and countries have been used to restrict the freedom of politically incorrect and unpopular speech. This bill could be used to advance the politically correct agenda in this country by providing greater protections for certain classes of people. Future legislation could expand these protections and place restrictions on religious liberty and free speech.

(3) It is unnecessary. Recent FBI statistics show that crimes motivated by hatred or bias against a trait of the victim are decreasing. Furthermore, many states already have a hate crimes law and there is no evidence that the states are failing to prosecute hate crimes. States which do not have hate crimes laws still prosecute the crimes under existing criminal laws. A federal bill hate crimes bill would only increase the control and scope of the federal government.

Introduced: 4/12/2007—Introduced in the Senate.

Status:

4/12/2007Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
9/27/2007Attached as an amendment to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill. It is now a part of the Senate version of H.R. 1585.

Sponsor:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (MA)

Cosponsors: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:SN01105:@@@P (43)

Bill Summary and Status: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.01105:

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.

 Other Resources

Statement of Administration Policy on Hate Crimes Bill from President Bush (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

H.R. 1592—Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007