Federal Legislation
May 18, 2010

Amendment No. 1539 “Hate Crimes”

Matthew Shepard Act was passed as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill (S. 1390) with a 63–28 vote in the Senate on July 15, 2009, and a 281–146 vote in the House on October 8, 2009. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009.

Background:
This federal “hate crimes” bill has been introduced as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization bill that funds the United States Armed Forces. There will be a vote on the amendment and then, if it wins enough votes, the Defense Reauthorization bill and the attached “hate crimes” amendment will be voted on by the entire Senate.

Analysis:
This legislation will create 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” and authorize the federal government to prosecute “hate crimes.”

The “hate crimes” legislation introduced by Senator Harry Reid creates a federal offense for crimes motivated by the “actual or perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity of any person. Sexual orientation and gender identity will be made a federally protected class under existing “hate crimes” laws. This legislation could create a dangerous precedent in Congress that could lead to future legislation that would restrict religious speech concerning homosexuality.

It appears that “hate crimes” legislation is unnecessary. Violent crimes are already being prosecuted. Furthermore, recent FBI statistics show that crimes motivated by hatred or bias against a trait of the victim are decreasing. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia already have some form of “hate crimes” law. States which do not have “hate crime” laws still prosecute the crimes under existing criminal laws. A federal “hate crimes” bill would only increase the control and scope of the federal government.

Although this “hate crimes” legislation prosecutes only “crime[s] of violence” and does not prosecute expressions or opinions, it opens the door to examining the thoughts of a criminal and anyone else who may have told the criminal that homosexuality is wrong. Some experts believe that under this legislation a pastor who says that homosexuality is a sin may be charged as an accessory to a crime if a violent crime is later committed by someone who heard him. An overzealous prosecutor could turn a criminal prosecution into a political correctness prosecution.

Broadly written “hate crimes” bills in states and other countries have led to “hate speech” legislation which has been used to restrict the freedom of politically incorrect and unpopular speech. Many fear that “hate crimes” legislation could be used to advance a 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, which is what has happened in some other states and countries.

Status:
The House of Representatives passed “hate crimes” legislation (H.R. 1913) on April 29, 2009, by a vote of 249–175. The Senate voted on July 16, 2009 to add the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill (63–28 vote). The amended Department of Defense bill then passed the Senate on July 23, 2009. The Senate and House versions of the bill must now be reconciled in a conference committee before being sent to the president’s desk.

Introduced: 7/15/09

Sponsor: Senator Reid (NV) for Senator Kennedy (MA)

HSLDA’s Position:
Oppose.