It's Back: 'Hate Crimes' Bill Reintroduced

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Liberals call it a "hate crimes prevention" bill, but conservatives denounce it as "anti-Christian" legislation.

Whatever you call it, the bill is back -- reintroduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) on Tuesday. Liberals are pressing for passage, and conservatives are pressing President Bush to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

"If there was ever a bill which needed to be vetoed -- this is it," said Traditional Values Coalition Executive Director Andrea Lafferty.

"Most Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs."

Lafferty and other conservatives argue that the bill will "elevate homosexuality" -- a type of behavior, they stipulate -- to the same level as race and other characteristics that can't be changed.

"The fact is that Conyers' so-called hate crimes bill is a fraud, designed for only one purpose: to add homosexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens and transsexuals to the ranks of federally protected minority groups," TVC said.

But a homosexual advocacy group -- named after murdered homosexual Matthew Shepard -- applauded the reintroduction of the hate crimes bill, calling it an "appropriate and measured response to the unrelenting and under-addressed problem of violent hate crimes committed against individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability."

Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Matthew's mother, said it's time the federal government expanded its definition of "hate crimes" to include those motivated by hatred of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals.

She said the investigation of Matthew's murder and the trial of his killers cost Albany County, Wyo., more than $150,000. But if the hate crimes law had been in existence then, she suggested that the federal government would have been able to pick up the financial burden, sparing the local sheriff's department the need to furlough five of its employees.

"Since Matthew was killed in 1998 for being gay, almost 10,000 violent acts of hate against individuals based on their sexual orientation have been reported to the authorities," Shepard said.

"Whether it is for Matthew or for the victims of the thousands of other violent hate crimes that have taken place over the years, I urge the GLBT community and its allies to make the passage of this bill a top priority."

The Traditional Values Coalition argues that there is no "epidemic" of hate crimes as some activists want Americans to believe: The group points to the FBI's 2005 "hate crimes" statistics, which show that one-third of the cases of so-called "sexual orientation" bias were nothing more than name-calling.

"The ultimate objective of this legislation is to claim that 'hate speech' -- criticism of homosexuality -- incites individuals to violence and must be suppressed and punished. This will violate the First Amendment rights of any person or group that opposes the normalization of homosexuality in our culture," TVC's Lafferty said.

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