Obama Signs Bill Violating ‘Equal Justice Under the Law,’ Critics Say
Democrats on Capitol Hill slipped the hate crimes language into the defense spending bill. A stand-alone bill making homosexuals and transgender people a specially protected class has failed to pass Congress for years.
“After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we've passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are,” Obama said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony. "No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability."
The hate crimes provision allows the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute violence motivated by a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability in addition to the already-covered race and religion categories.
Critics, including some on the left, contend that levying more severe penalties based on motive constitutes “thought crime.” Further, some fear the law could be misused to stifle free speech.
"Today, President Obama signed into law the so-called 'hate crimes' bill which violates the principle of equal justice under the law and threatens to infringe on the free speech rights of the American people,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "All violent crimes are hate crimes, and every victim is equally important. President Obama's decision today fails to recognize that all of our citizens deserve equal justice under the law.”
The hate crimes provision is named after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual college student murdered in Wyoming in 1998; and James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in that same year in Texas.
“I promised Judy Shepard, when she saw me in the Oval Office, that this day would come, and I'm glad that she and her husband Dennis could join us for this event,” Obama said on Wednesday.
“I'm also honored to have the family of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who fought so hard for this legislation. And Vicki and Patrick, Kara, everybody who's here, I just want you all to know how proud we are of the work that Ted did to help make this day possible,” Obama said.
Many Republicans objected to Democrats taking annunrelated item and putting it into the defense authorization legislation.
“Today, the president of the United States put his liberal social priorities ahead of an unambiguous affirmation of our men and women in uniform,” House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana said in a statement.
“Every day, our armed forces stand in defense of freedom and our cherished way of life. It is deeply offensive to their service and to millions of Americans to pile so-called ‘hate crimes’ legislation onto a bill that authorizes critical resources for our troops. Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom.”
Pence accused the president of using his position as commander in chief “to advance a radical social agenda, when he should have used it to advance legislation that would unequivocally support our troops.” Pence said unrelated liberal priorities have no place in a defense authorization bill.
Perkins of the Family Research Council said including “hate crimes” legislation in a defense bill was a “slap to the face of our servicemen and women” because it forced Congress to “choose between expanding hate crimes or making our military go without.”
“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.”
"This also sets us on a slippery slope toward serious infringements of the freedom of speech and freedom of religion," Perkins added. "This 'hate crimes' law lays the legal foundation and framework for investigating, prosecuting and persecuting pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions reflect their faith."
Homosexuality advocates celebrated the bill signing – a bright spot in what, for them, has been a disappointing nine months. Gay activists have accused President Obama of ignoring their priorities and his own campaign promises to the LGBT community.
But there were smiles on Wednesday: “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement.
“Although this is a major step in fighting the scourge of hate violence, it is not the end of the road," Solmonese said. "As a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to changing not only laws but also hearts and minds. We know that hate crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities. After more than a decade of advocacy, local police and sheriffs’ departments now have the full resources of the Justice Department available to them.”