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New 'Hate Crimes' Law Drives Huge Nail Into First Amendment's Coffin

President Obama Signs the 'Hate-Crimes' Bill into law Today!

The new "Hate Crimes" bill signed into law by President Obama Wednesday is another nail in the coffin for the First Amendment, at least according to attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund.

This evening, the president will host a reception at the White House commemorating the enactment of the Hate Crimes law, which adds sexual orientation to the list of federally protected classes. Attorney General Eric Holder and civil rights leaders are expected to attend.

Although bill supporters said the Hate Crimes measure criminalizes only violence against homosexuals, many conservative Christian leaders say the law could be used to prosecute pastors if an attendee of their church commits a crime and blames it on sermons about homosexuality. They point to cases in Canada and Sweden, where Christians have faced criminal prosecution for preaching that homosexual behavior is sinful.

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, also looks to the case of the so-called Philadelphia Eleven, a group of evangelists with Repent America who were arrested in October 2004 while preaching on public streets during the city's gay Outfest. The group, including a grandmother, spent 21 hours in jail and were charged under the state's Hate Crimes law. A Philadelphia judge later dismissed the criminal charges as being without merit, but not without the group having spent thousands of dollars to defend their innocence.

"The intent of this bill is to silence people," Lafferty said of the federal hate crimes law. "[Supporters] haven't proven there is an epidemic of hate crimes against homosexuals. They want to use the force of law to make Americans accept the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered & transsexual) lifestyle."

Lafferty and other bill opponents see the hate crimes law as part of a growing assault on religious liberty in the U.S. They believe the new law will embolden supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a proposed law that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Attorney Matt Krause of the Christian legal firm Liberty Counsel said ENDA bills introduced this year in the House and Senate could force religious organizations to hire people who are homosexual, bisexual or transgendered even if it conflicts with their doctrinal statements.

"This just sets into place a whole body of law that seeks to protect a special group when there's nothing that should be there in the first place to do that," Krause said.

Although churches and some Christian schools may be exempt, Christian-owned businesses with 15 or more employees would likely be subject to the ENDA policies, Lafferty said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the new hate crimes law could also lead to repeals of the ban on homosexuality in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act.

"This Hate Crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality," Perkins said.

Lafferty also has concerns about Obama's nomination of Chai Feldblum to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lafferty said Feldblum claims the GLBT political agenda trumps religious freedom issues and doesn't think traditional marriage is the best structure for sexual relationships.

"Feldblum comes across as a lesbian version of Katie Couric-perky and likeable-but her views and her goals are extremely dangerous to religious liberties and the traditional family," said Lafferty, who wants the Senate to hold hearings to examine Feldblum's views.

A few evangelical leaders say the Hate Crimes law is needed and that concerns about religious liberty infringements are overblown.

"I would think that the followers of Jesus would be first in line to protect any group from hate crimes," said Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter. "This bill protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their Scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack."

Hunter joined Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, a popular author and founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, in supporting the bill earlier this year.

The nonpartisan Factcheck.org reported that the bill would not prevent religious leaders from speaking disapprovingly about homosexuality.

The group said the First Amendment protects ministers' free speech, but it also pointed to language in the bill that says "nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities ... including the exercise of religion." The measure, however, notes that the Constitution "does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence."

Factcheck notes that in another section the measure states that nothing in the act "shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs."

Bill opponents said they plan to take a wait-and-see approach. Lafferty questions Factcheck.org's findings, and said the Hate Crimes Act, and ENDA if it were to pass, could lead to more restrictive measures over time.

"Just because a bill passes a certain way doesn't mean it's going to stay that way," Lafferty said. "They're going to come back and come back and come back."

Krause encouraged pastors not to alter their message. He said if the Hate Crimes law were ever applied against a minister, church or religious organization, Liberty Counsel would defend them.

"As the Bible speaks out against homosexuality, we encourage [pastors] to do the same thing and continue to be true to the Scriptures," Krause said. "Because, again, if ... there are no consequences, then pastors shouldn't have a reason to worry. If they do start getting into trouble, that will show the real nefarious intent behind this bill in the first place and all those promises will be for naught."

"All violent crimes are Hate Crimes, and all crime victims deserve equal justice," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. "This law is a grave threat to the First Amendment because it provides special penalties based on what people think, feel, or believe. ADF will be on the front line to defend those whose free speech or free exercise of religion rights are violated by this unconstitutional law and to ultimately overturn this attack on freedom."

Stanley, who heads the ADF Pulpit Initiative, an effort to defend the First Amendment rights of pastors from the pulpit, explained that virtually everywhere "Hate Crimes" laws have passed, prosecutions for speech have followed.

"ADF has clearly seen the evidence of where 'hate crimes' legislation leads when it has been tried around the world: It paves the way for the criminalization of speech that is not deemed 'politically correct,'" Stanley explained.  "'Hate crimes' laws fly in the face of the underlying purpose of the First Amendment, which was designed specifically to protect unpopular speech."

ADF warned about the dangers of the bill in May when the Senate was considering the House's version of the bill, H.R. 1913. The Senate packaged it inside of a defense spending bill in an apparent attempt to ensure passage of the "Hate Crimes" measure. ADF submitted legal analysis to the House Judiciary Committee in April that advised of the "Hate Crimes" bill's dubious constitutionality.

"These types of crimes are already punishable under existing federal, state, and local laws. Violent crimes should be punished regardless of the characteristics of the victim," said Stanley. "Bills of this sort are designed to forward a political agenda and silence critics, not combat actual crime. The bottom line is that we do not need a law that creates second-class victims in America and that gives the government the opportunity to ignore the First Amendment."

Did Your Senator Vote For the "Thought Crimes" Bill?

See how your senators voted and send an e-mail of complaint or commendation.

The United States Senate voted last week to criminalize thought by passing the so-called "Hate Crime" bill. Today, President Obama signed that Bill into law.

This is simply the first in a line of morally repugnant pro-homosexual bills that are on the horizon, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to repeal the prohibition on homosexuals serving in the military, and a bill to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

We must let every senator who voted for the "Hate Crimes" bill know that his vote will not be forgotten when he stands for re-election.

And we must let those senators who voted against this dangerous bill know that we appreciate and support their vote and will likewise remember their vote when they stand for re-election.

The "Hate Crimes" law not only criminalizes thought, it creates a judicial caste system in which those who engage in non-normative sexual behavior perversely get more protection than heterosexuals.

And it could put your pastor in jail if his biblical teaching on sexuality can be connected in even the remotest way to an act of violence against a homosexual or a transsexual.

(Click here if you'd like to see how your representative voted when this bill was before the House.)

Take Action

Send your senators an e-mail of complaint or commendation based on how he or she voted on the "Hate Crimes" bill.

FYI, both Texas Senators Hutchinson and Cornyn voted in Favor of the 'Hate-Crimes' Bill!

Please note that our system automatically recognizes how your senators voted on this bill and constructs the proposed e-mail message accordingly.


Take Action Now

Send your senators an e-mail of complaint or commendation based on how he or she voted on the "Hate Crimes" bill.

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