Conservatives Fight 'Hate Crimes' Provision in Major Education Bill

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - As the full Senate prepares to debate President Bush's top priority - education reform - the bill is providing fertile ground for lawmakers and special interest groups to insert language promoting various social agendas.

During the Clinton era, conservatives fumed about provisions of a 1994 bill that, among other things, gave out federal taxpayer money to schools for instituting so-called "hate crimes" curricula. Now, with a Republican president and Congress, conservatives hope to purge those provisions.

"When you hear the words 'violence prevention,' or 'prejudice' and 'intolerance' [in the education bill], what's happening is that [liberal activists] are taking 'prejudice' and 'intolerance' and saying that evangelicals are that," said Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition.

"Those kinds of words are where the homosexuals come in and get their funding, where they promote anti-Christian bigotry, where they use words like 'institutionalized prejudice,' [as] a prejudice found in religious organizations," Lafferty said.

"It doesn't always have to always say 'hate crime,'" Lafferty continued. "It can say 'incidents of crime' or 'conflicts motivated by hate.' It's dangerous because a hate incident can be your child standing up in class and saying 'abortion is murder' or 'homosexuality is a sin.'"

The problem for conservatives is that, while the current House version of the education bill purges the previous hate crimes language and explicitly forbids funds from being used to promote or encourage homosexual (or heterosexual) activity, it's expected that the Senate version will stick with the old language.

"On the Senate side, even among the Republican members, they still want the hate crime stuff in there," said Erika Lestelle, education policy analyst for the Family Research Council. "It's going to be really difficult to get that out."

The problems flowing from federal hate crime language are pervasive, according to Lestelle, because the issue is so connected to the distribution of federal education money. If a school system wants federal money to combat violence and drugs, it must incorporate a message against hate crimes into different courses, like health courses, said Lestelle.

Lafferty points to incidents in which federal hate crime funds were allegedly used to link white supremacists to the Baptists and Pentecostal faiths and to educate grade-schoolers about sex change operations.

"You might ask, 'why is violence prevention not good for kids?'" said Lafferty. "This legislation is so broadly written that these wacko people can get money and promote this bizarreness to our children. How many American people think it's okay to teach kindergartners about sex change operations? That has been endorsed by government-funded curriculum."