How Will New Hate Crimes Bill Affect Your Free Speech?

Our last president was ridiculed for claiming to have peered into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and gotten, in his words, a “sense of his soul.” Our current president wants to do something even more audacious:  to peer into your mind to get a sense of your thoughts.  And if he finds them insufficiently accepting of homosexuality, he may want to lock you up.  

And he could get the chance. This week, the House of Representatives passed The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 1913), which adds gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability to the list of protected categories under federal hate crimes law. An identical hate crimes bill was introduced two years ago but was stopped by President Bush’s veto pen.  This year’s bill is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Obama.   

Social liberals claim to value privacy above almost everything else.  “Keep the government out of our bedrooms and out of our wombs,” they holler.  But their respect for privacy has its limits, and liberals encourage government intrusion into your head when they want to punish you for thoughts they find particularly contemptible.

There are many problems with this legislation, not least that if it becomes law it would federalize law enforcement by allowing the federal government to intervene in local criminal matters when a crime is deemed to be motivated by hatred of this or that disadvantaged group.  

Hate crimes laws, the first of which was passed in 1968, are neither necessary nor constitutionally authorized.  But Obama and his Democratic allies are masters of the political art of appeasing powerful constituencies, especially ones with penchants for violent outbursts when they don’t get their way.   

Hate crimes laws’ main purpose is to appease the homosexual rights lobby.  House Democrats rejected 10 Republican amendments to the bill, including provisions that would have added senior citizens, pregnant women, unborn children and members of the military, to the list of protected groups.  

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced an amendment that would have barred pedophiles from special protection under the statute, but Democrats took it out of the final bill.  

By punishing thoughts instead of actions, hate crimes laws, or “bias-motivated crimes” as they are sometimes called, raise several questions:  For instance, how will the federal government determine causation?  What if, say, a homosexual were attacked by someone who believes homosexuality is a sin, but the attacker wasn’t motivated by the victim’s homosexuality but by something else entirely?  What if the homosexual is attacked by someone from his or her protected class?

In the notorious case of Matthew Shepard, for whom HR 1913 is named, a probable drug-related killing was assumed to be a hate crime because Shepard was gay.  Only later was it revealed that the perpetrators were motivated primarily by drugs and robbery, not by Shepard’s sexual orientation. Correlation does not imply causation.

A bigger problem is how hate crimes statutes will affect free speech.  In other western nations, enactment of hate crimes laws that thwart free speech have led to widespread suppression of speech and religious liberty.

In the United States, some proponents of hate crimes laws insist Christians and others who speak out against homosexuality will not be prosecuted.  Regarding HR 1913, Rep. John Conyers has said, “The bill only applies to bias-motivated violent crimes and does not impinge public speech or writing in any way.”

But there is increasing evidence that free speech could by the greatest victim of hate crimes laws.  Some have called such bills “Pastor Gag Laws.” According to a recent report in the Washington Post, “[F]aith organizations and individuals who view homosexuality as sinful and refuse to provide services to gay people are losing a growing number of legal battles that they say are costing them their religious freedom.”

A Christian psychologist in Georgia lost her job because she declined to treat a lesbian. The relationship website eHarmony gave in and agreed to serve gays and lesbians in order to prevent litigation after a man accused the site of discrimination for not offering services to homosexuals. Christians in Philadelphia were locked up for singing at a public park during a homosexual street festival.

When a Christian couple running a photography studio in New Mexico decided not to provide photography services for a lesbian “commitment ceremony,” they were hit with $6,600 in fines for violating a state anti-discrimination law.  A (private) Christian school has been sued for expelling two lesbian students.

Catholic Charities was forced out of the adoption business in Massachusetts for refusing to violate its deeply-held teachings about sexuality and marriage for refusing to take part in the adoption of children to homosexual couples.  

It’s been an busy first 100 days for President Obama.  By striking down conscience protections, he has made it clear he wants to compel pro-life hospitals and medical practitioners to participate in abortions.

By spending more than $1 billion in the recent “stimulus” package for research into creating a system of health care rationing, Obama has shown he wants government to force doctors to withhold life-saving treatment to patients who become too much of a burden on state finances.  

And soon, by signing The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and other statues that strengthen hate crimes protections, Obama will compel Christians and others with traditional beliefs about sexuality and marriage not only to tolerate but to embrace practices at odds with their core values.  Still, the bill has not passed both houses just yet. The next hurdle to face for this legislation is in the Senate, and it’s time for voters to make their voices heard.

Recently at the Miss USA pageant, Carrie Prejean, Miss California, caused a stir for answering a judge’s question about same-sex “marriage” by stating that she “believes that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.”  The statement probably cost Ms. Prejean the crown.  How long until such declarations cost someone their freedom?