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U.S. hate crime bills/laws

Senate hate-crimes bill S. 1105: (2007):
Proposed text. Passes Senate, and fails

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Quotation:

bullet

"Senate Bill 1105: Unnecessary, unconstitutional, ungodly" Sign at a Capitol rally on 2007-JUL-11. 1

Proposed federal hate crimes legislation:

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) had introduced a hate-crimes bill to the Senate in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003. None were successful. Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) has sponsored or co-sponsored a hate-crimes bill in the senate for the previous five consecutive Congresses. On 2007-APR-12, they joined to sponsor the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, which Senators Smith and Kennedy are renaming in honor of Matthew Shepard -- the young man who suffered an assassination death by crucifixion in Wyoming. Its short title is the: "Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007."

Smith's web site states:
" 'A principal responsibility of government is to protect and defend its citizens and to come to the aid of the mistreated.  As a nation founded on the ideals of tolerance and justice, we simply cannot accept violence that is motivated by bias and hate,' Smith said. 'Current law is limited. Our proposal would change that, and change it permanently. As a tribute to Matthew and in recognition of the tireless effort of his mother Judy, this legislation will be known as the 'Matthew Shepard Bill'."
"Supported by a broad coalition of over 210 law enforcement, religious, and civil rights groups, this bill will strengthen our nation's ability to provide justice for victims of hate-motivated crimes.  It corrects problems in the current law by expanding the definition of a hate crime to include sexual orientation, gender and disability." 2

Actually, the web site is in error. This bill will not "strengthen our nation's ability to provide justice for victims of hate-motivated crimes." Even though a companion bill. H.R. 1592, was introduced by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) with 171 cosponsors, and approved by the House, it faced an almost certain veto by the President, even if were passed by the Senate. 3 The veto was likely because, in its effort to protect persons of all sexual orientations, genders, gender identity and disability from hate assaults, it would safeguard homosexuals along with heterosexuals and bisexuals.

The existing federal hate crimes act of 1968 is limited to a narrow range of crimes and to only those hate crimes motivated by race, color, religion, or national origin. H.R. 1592 and S. 1105 would expand hate-crimes coverage to include physically violent crimes in which the perpetrator was motivated by hatred of the victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. As of 2007-MAY-04, it had 43 cosponsors.

Text of S. 1105:

In common with H.R. 1592, the bill notes that:

bullet"The incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem."
bullet"Such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive."
bullet"A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected."
bullet"Federal jurisdiction over certain violent crimes motivated by bias enables Federal, State, and local authorities to work together as partners in the investigation and prosecution of such crimes."
bullet"The problem of crimes motivated by bias is sufficiently serious, widespread, and interstate in nature as to warrant Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes."

If the bill is signed into law, it would only be applicable if:

bulletA crime occurs that includes an assault, aggravated assault, or shooting, and
bulletIt can be shown that the perpetrator was motivated to commit the law because of hatred of one of the protected groups, and
bulletIf the crime included:
bulletTravel across a state line or national border, or
bulletUsed a "channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce," or
bulletA weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, or
bulletAn interference with commercial or other economic activity.

A serious deficiency in the bill:

In common with H.R. 1592, the bill contains a near fatal deficiency in the "Definitions" section, 249 (c). It contains no definition for "sexual orientation." It is fairly common for fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians to define basic terms one way while mainline Christians, progressive Christians, secularists, members of other religions, medical professionals, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, and others define them differently. Sexual orientation is no exception.

The nearly universally accepted definition of "sexual orientation" is related to the gender of those whom a person finds sexually attractive: people with a homosexual orientation are attracted to the same gender; heterosexuals to the opposite gender; bisexuals to both genders -- although not necessarily to the same degree.  Some conservative Christians define it very differently, and include gender, age, species, and living/non-living status. As a result, the latter claim that protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation will protect heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals as well as pedophiles, hebephiles, necrophiliac, persons into having sex with animals. etc.

By not defining the term "sexual orientation" the sponsors of the bill leave it potentially open to some rather unusual criticisms that could have been easily prevented. According to commentary on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ program, a number of evangelical Christian activist groups have claimed that there are not three but thirty different sexual orientations, and that the proposed bill would cover them all. Meanwhile, among essentially all religious liberals, human sexuality researchers, therapists, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, civil rights activists, mental health professional associations, etc. there are only three sexual orientations: heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual. The result of this situation is chaos.

Bill attached to defense bill:

Faced with a certain presidential veto, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) attempted to add S. 1105 to the Department of Defense Reauthorization bill. If the bill were passed by Congress with the amendment in place, President Bush would be in  an awkward position: of either passing both bills or vetoing both. Passing both bills is an unacceptable alternative to Bush, because it would protect people from hate-motivated crimes on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability. Vetoing both is even more unacceptable because it would starve the Armed Forces of funding.

Religious and social conservatives are crying foul at what they regard as a "shameless" and "manipulative" maneuver. However, it is a very commonly used method by which Democrats and Republicans have used to force bills that are supported by the majority in Congress but faced a presidential veto.

Joe Glover of the Family Policy Network said the move is

"... shockingly manipulative. It is a shameless attempt to push the homosexual agenda on the American people by exploiting American soldiers who are currently in harm's way around the world." 4

Actually, protecting homosexuals would be only part of the bill's effect; it would also protect heterosexuals, bisexuals, men, women, and the disabled -- in short, all Americans.

Bill passes Senate:

The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) was passed on 2007-SEP-27. The Senate voted 60 to 39 to end a filibuster. This included 49 Democrats, 9 Republicans and two independents. All of the "no" votes came from Republicans. The bill itself then passed on a voice vote. 5

A virtually identical House bill was passed on MAY-03 by a bipartisan vote of 237 to 180. It has been attached to a Department of Defense authorization bill that is currently before the Senate. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) likened hate crimes to terrorism and said that the Defense bill is a perfect fit for it. He said:

"The defense authorization is about dealing with the challenges of terrorism overseas. ... This [bill] is about terrorism in our neighborhood." 5

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention published a report on the bill titled: "Senate OKs homosexuals in hate crimes bill." In reality, the bill would not simply protect gays and lesbians. It would protect everyone, whether homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. Tom Strode of the ERLC reported:

"Supporters of the controversial measure gained its passage as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, purportedly to make it difficult for President Bush to veto. The White House, however, has promised a veto by the president, even if it is part of the Defense bill."

" 'I hope and pray that if this bill makes its way to the president's desk that he will fulfill his promise to veto it," said Richard Land, president of" the ERLC. 6

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that S. 1105 jeopardized passage of the entire Defense bill. He said:

"Do we want to protect the defense policy matters in this bill that actually matter to our forces in the field, or do we want to debate political and social issues on this measure?" the Kentucky Republican said in floor debate before the votes. 5

Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard's parents said:

"Today's Senate vote sends a bold and unmistakable message that violent crimes committed in the name of hate must end. The Matthew Shepard Act is an essential step to erasing hate in America and we are humbled that it bears our son's name. It has been almost nine years since Matthew was taken from us. This bill is a fitting tribute to his memory and to all of those who have lost their lives to hate." 7

Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, said:

"We are especially thankful to Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) for their unwavering leadership in ensuring the passage of this bill." 7

Defense authorization bill approved by the Senate:

The Senate approved a defense authorization bill for $648 billion. It included:

bulletAbout $142 billion to continue the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,
bulletA 3.5% increase in pay for military personnel,
bulletAlmost $950 million for military health care, and
bulletAlmost $24 billion for armored vehicles that can withstand roadside bombs.

But President Bush has promised to veto the entire bill because it contains the hate crimes legislation as an amendment. That part of the appropriation bill has been strongly opposed by social and religious conservatives because would protect homosexuals. Actually, the bill would protect persons of both genders, all sexual orientations (heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual), all gender identities, and all types of disabilities. That is, it would protect every person in the U.S. equally. If he does veto the bill, he would be making history because no president in the history of the United States has ever vetoed a defense authorization bill.

Tony Perkins, president of the fundamentalist Christian Family Research Council, said: "This puts our brave men and women at risk just so they can curry favor with homosexuals. That is about as un-American as it gets." He was apparently referring to the hate-crime amendment itself, not to President Bush's expected veto.

Final status of S 1105:

The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) was successfully added to the DoD Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 1585) on 2007-SEP-27. However, it was later removed. According to the Human Rights Campaign:

"The hate crimes veto threat issued by the White House and organized opposition by House Republican Leadership cost significant numbers of votes on the right.  Iraq-related provisions that many progressive Democrats opposed cost votes on the left.  Moderate Democrats, many of whom voted for the hate crimes bill in May, did not want to test the President's veto threat and risk a delay in increased pay for military personnel.  All of these factors resulted in insufficient votes to secure passage of the DoD bill with the hate crimes provision." 8

For more information on S 1105, please read essays on the companion bill H.R. 1592. The wordings of both bills are essentially identical.

See also reaction to this bill by both religious conservatives and liberals

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Michelle Vu, "Hate Crimes Bill Opponents Protest for Right to Preach on Biblical Sin," Christian Post, 2007-JUL-12, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  2. "Senators Kennedy and Smith Introduce Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act," Matthew Shepard Foundation, 2007-APR-13, at: http://www.matthewshepard.org/
  3. "H.R. 1582," text, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  4. Bob Unruh, "Kennedy cramming hate crimes into defense bill. 'Shameless attempt to push homosexual agenda ... by exploiting soldiers'," WorldNetDaily, 2007-JUL-17, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
  5. S.A. Miller, "Gay protection tacked onto defense bill," The Washington Times, 2007-SEP-28, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/
  6. Tom Strode, "Senate OKs homosexuals in hate crimes bill," ERLC, 2007-SEP-27, at: http://erlc.com/
  7. "Senate passes the Matthew Shepard Act! One step closer to erasing hate," Matthew Shepard Foundation news release, 2007-SEP-27.
  8. "The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act / Matthew Shepard Act ," Human Rights Campaign, 2008-OCT-06, at: http://www.hrc.org/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2007-MAY-04
Latest update: 2009-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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