Hate crimes bill makes Christians fear for free speech rights

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed the Senate 63-28, and is supported by the president who will sign it into law. Christians should be first in line to stop hate in this country, so why are some pastors concerned about this legislation?

According to Christianity Today: “Ashley Horne, a federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family, said that if passed, the law could expose pastors to federal prosecution if an attendee of their church committed a crime and blamed it on sermons about homosexuality. The bill does not adequately protect Christians from gay activists, she says. She worries that the prosecution would be based on evidence of motivation.

‘Don’t ask me how they’re going to figure out what you perceived and how you perceived that,’ she said.”

On top of the free speech concerns, we have to ask the obvious question–how exactly is a “hate crime” different from any other crime, and what does increased legislation actually do? It appears that this bill is not intended to really help protect citizens, but serves a different purpose.

Andrew Sullivan writes: “The real reason for hate crime laws is not the defense of human beings from crime. There are already laws against that–and Matthew Shepard’s murderers were successfully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in a state with no hate crimes law at the time. The real reason for the invention of hate crimes was a hard-left critique of conventional liberal justice and the emergence of special interest groups which need boutique legislation to raise funds for their large staffs and luxurious buildings.”

No one wants to believe that a bill designed to stop hate is simply a propaganda tool. But the problem, as Greg Koukl writes, is that legislating against hate towards certain people means that only those certain people are protected from hate. Potentially, Christians who speak out against a protected group–rallying against gay marriage, for example–could be prosecuted if a criminal claims to have used those views to do someone harm.

John McCain argued against the bill, saying, “Our legal system is based on identifying, capturing and punishing criminals, and not on using the power of government to try to define biases. Crimes motivated by hate deserve vigorous prosecution, but so do crimes motivated by absolute wanton disregard for life of any kind.”

Exactly. We should punish criminals who hurt or harm anyone, not just protected groups of people with lobbying and voting power. Many are saying that this bill is unconstitutional, because: “…it violates the 10th Amendment by granting the Federal Government authority over local and state government in prosecuting hate crimes. It violates the 14th Amendment by granting certain groups special protected status, as well the double jeopardy clause of the 5th amendment.” (The Examiner)

It will be interesting to see how this new legislation is used, however, Christians must be more conscious than ever of “speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) As Jesus did with the woman at the well, we have to be consistent, loving those around us while not condoning sinful lifestyles and actions. It’s definitely a tough example to follow, but we can’t allow legislation such as this bill to scare us into silence. As I said in the beginning of this blog, Christians should be the first to defend victims of hate, and the first to spread the truth in love.

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  1. DutyThomas said:

    What the government should do is get rid of all protected classes, such as: Religion,race,skin color,sexual orientation, handicap, etc., and do as John McCain says, if someone does something wrong against an individual or group, go after that one person or group and prosecute them, period. No one deserves special rights. Hold each person accountable for their own actions.

    July 30, 2009
  2. jdblue82 said:

    There is one very clear reason why hate crimes demand tougher sentences and more investigative resources: Hate crimes have more victims. Hate crimes are a form of terrorism. They are violent crimes directed at members of a specific community or group. Their purpose is to torment or persecute based solely on membership (or perceived membership) in that group. Much like other terrorist acts, a murder or assault based on anti-immigrant, anti-Christian, or anti-gay bias is an attack not just on the victim, but on everyone who identifies with the targeted characteristic of the victim. Furthermore, a hate crime demonstrates a strong probability for repeat offense and thus mandates (for the safety of society at large) that the option of stricter sentencing be on the table. If we know or believe it likely a violent offender will attack again, why would we want that offender released any earlier than absolutely necessary? Let us not forget that the hate crimes bill does not define any new criminal acts. It merely allows for enhancements of prosecution and sentencing in instances where an already-illegal act has been motivated by extreme bigotry. Since no pastors have currently been arrested for incitement by preaching sermons, that will not change. If, however, a preacher strays from that path of love that Christians always and ever ought to walk… if such a man were to advocate for violence, well then the presence of a hate crimes statute would not make his act of incitement any more illegal than it already is today.

    July 31, 2009

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