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Hate Crime Legislation Updated

Existing hate crime legislation has been updated with the passing of a new federal law designed to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for a gay man who was murdered eleven years ago, expands the original list of criteria which includes race, color, religion and national origin. The legislation specifically targets actions, not speech. From the article linked above…

“Nothing in this legislation diminishes an American’s freedom of religion, freedom of speech or press or the freedom to assemble,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “Let me be clear. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act targets acts, not speech.”

That seems simple enough. If there is already hate crime legislation, it should probably include groups that tend to be targets of hate-based violence. Again from the article…

The FBI says more than half of reported hate crimes are motivated by racial bias. Next most frequent are crimes based on religious bias, at around 18 percent, and sexual orientation, at 16 percent.

Sixteen percent seems like a large enough percentage to warrant the special protection offered by hate crime legislation. So there’s no problem, right?

Of course there’s a problem!

Conservatives have opposed it, arguing that it creates a special class of victims. They also have been concerned that it could silence clergymen or others opposed to homosexuality on religious or philosophical grounds.

Doesn’t hate crime legislation automatically create a special class of victims? That’s sort of the point. The opposition is creating a smokescreen argument. The second part of the above quoted paragraph is the most telling… though with an additional attempt at misdirection.

Opponents of the legislation are afraid it would silence clergymen (or others) who oppose homosexuality because of their religion… or on philosophical grounds. Wait… what? I call shenanigans. That’s an attempt by the homophobic religious right to add a smidgen of validity to their bigoted religious arguments. “Philosophical grounds” sounds completely secular… so it’s not just those religious folks who oppose homosexuality, right?

Seriously? No.

I don’t want to state outright that there have never been purely philosophical arguments opposing homosexuality, but I’ve never heard one. I’ve heard a feeble attempt, but in the end, it boiled down to religious belief. Every single argument I’ve ever heard or read in opposition to homosexuality is based on a religious belief… Christianity, Islam, Judaism… take your pick. Philosophy? Not so much.

So the conservatives who oppose this legislation oppose it because of their religiously-based bigotry. That’s really the bottom line. It’s not going to silence free speech. It’s not going to put outspoken, anti-gay, religious zealots in danger of being whisked away to the hate crime gulag. It targets actions, not words.

To highlight the fear-mongering alarmism of the religious right…

That didn’t convince Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who said the bill was a “dangerous step” toward thought crimes. He asked whether the bill would “serve as a warning to people not to speak out too loudly about their religious views.”

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the measure was “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.”

DeMint obviously misses the whole “targets actions” concept, but uses his alarmist “dangerous step” and “thought crimes” and “don’t speak too loudly” phraseology to rouse the faithful… or rather misinform his religious right constituents so they can shout their Leviticus-fueled outrage from the hilltops.

Perkins seems more of a conspiracy theory propagandist… radical social agenda… silence Christians… force of government… marginalize faith… eliminate bigotry… Okay, I made that last one up.

He seems to think that adding homosexuals to a list of people who are targets of hate-fueled violence will somehow “marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.”

I don’t think the list has anything to do with it.

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