The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act Would Not Stop Anyone’s Religious Free Speech; Read the Bill, Then Shut Up!

hate-crimeFirst of all, I can’t say I am whole-heartedly in favor of the hate crimes bill in Congress. For my tax dollars spent on social issues of this kind, I’d much rather see Congress, first, get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the “Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The bill, which if enacted, would be called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Click to the bill from the Library of Congress. Read it; it’s just one page.) After reading it for myself, I’m getting sick of all the christian whiners all over the net crying that they are going to lose their ability to spew out hate. The bill does basically these things:

  • Gives the necessity for having such laws
  • Defines what hate crimes are
  • Says the support, both financial and otherwise, can be given to state and local jurisdictions, especially when the crime involves more than one state or in rural areas, basically in the form of grants
  • Gives more specifics on what hate crimes are (those involve bodily injury and death)
  • Explains in what situations the federal government can get involved
  • Explains what evidence is admissible
  • Explains that the Act follows the Constitution, which gives free speech.

In fact, the bill directly stipulates that speech, including religious speech, is still protected; read from Section 10:

    • (3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.
    • (4) FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

If someone says that his religious speech will be limited because of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, he hasn’t read it, or he is just lying and trying to stir things up for others who won’t bother to read it.

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Hate Crimes Legislation vs. Marriage Equality

Appalled is the only way to describe my reaction yesterday when I saw the C-Span clip of Virgina Foxx, the Republican Congresswoman of North Carolina’s Fifth District during the debate of the hate crime legislation. This former college president and English professor said that the fact that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay was a hoax. (She has since tried to backtrack on her words.) The fact is gay people in this country are attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation here in the U.S. In some cases, gay people are targeted because they seem to some to be “easy pickings” and the real motivation for the attack is pure harassment or robbery or even rape.

There was a rash of attacks on gay people here in Houston in the 90s, one of which was the murder of Paul Broussard, which happened near where I lived. If you’ve never read about this case, I recommend that you read this article or for a slightly different perspective look here.

It only takes reading the gay press online to know that these attacks are still happening today. I can’t say what percentage of gay people have experienced physical attacks or the threat of being attacked, but I would guess that it’s a high percentage, from attacks in schools to attacks in the street to attacks at home.

In spite of all these attacks (I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve mentioned on my about page), I don’t really support hate crimes legislation. If someone is attacked, they are attacked and the perpetrator should be punished. If someone is murdered, the killer should be tried and punished according to the law, not because of who was killed but because murder is murder no matter who the victim is.

I agree with some in Congress who ask how do we determine which groups should be covered under hate crimes. Ours is a democracy and everyone should be treated equally, no slippery slopes.

And that is the rationale of those people who are against hate crimes legislation: they do not want to have to give special treatment to certain groups.

But where is that rationale when it comes to Marriage Equality? Those who are against marriage equality certainly favor the idea of a special status for heterosexual people. And those against same-sex marriage are not just limited to the evangelicals and other Republicans.

How would all of those who voted in favor of the hate crimes bill have voted if the bill were for legalizing same-sex marriage? I doubt that the majority would have voted for it. While many of these representatives may feel they are doing the right thing, this type of legislation is not the answer to stopping the attacks and murders of gay people, nor of any other group of people. It’s no different than putting that metal plate over the construction hole in the street. You can drive over the hole, but it’s still there and eventually needs to be fixed.

The only real “fix” here is to change the attitudes of individuals and of society as a whole. It’s very hard to change ideas when they have been pounded into someone’s head from an early age.

But the government can do that by making laws that bring equal rights to all citizens. (We’ve seen this when slavery was abolished, when women were given the right to vote, when mixed race couples were allowed to marry.) I don’t know if people who have not been denied rights can understand this. I’m pretty sure that most women can understand this; I’m pretty sure that people of many ethnic minorities can understand this; I know that almost every gay person knows this. Even with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of our elected officials are still heterosexual white men, and most of them do not understand what it means to be discriminated against and do not want to understand it. Because if they were to make the playing ground equal for everyone, they might lose some of their power.

Putting specific groups into hate crimes laws does not make people of those groups any stronger. It weakens them by saying they need special protection, and in reality, is a way of keeping them second class citizens.

Instead what the government needs to do is enact and enforce laws, such as for marriage, labor, and immigration, that give all citizens their due rights under the Constitution.

We can only hope that people like Virginia Foxx, who are against giving special status to any citizens through hate crimes legislation, would also realize that by expressing that viewpoint, they are advocating equal status for all citizens and, thus, would support bills that provide that equality: legislation in favor of same-sex marriage and the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Patrons in Popular Galveston Gay Bar Attacked by Rock Throwers

Robert's Lafitte, Galveston, Texas

Robert's Lafitte, Galveston, Texas

According to this morning’s Houston Chronicle, customers at Robert’s Lafitte, one of Galveston’s gay bars, were attacked by three thugs who entered the establishment and threw large rocks at the customers. Two people were hit in the head, one of whom was taken to the hospital and the other was treated at the club. The attackers ran from the scene, but the police caught them around 10 blocks away and brought them back to the bar, where they were identified by patrons. They are being held in Galveston County Jail on $120,000 bail, charged with assault with a hate crime enhancement.

Robert’s Lafitte has been a popular gay establishment on the Texas gulf coast for many years, but gained international notoriety when it was one of the last businesses to close before and one of the first to re-open after Hurricane Ike devastated the port city of Galveston.

Attacks of this kind are quite unusual in laid-back Galveston, and it has been quite a number of years since there have been publicized arrests of gay-bashers in the entire Houston metro area. This kind of attack does not give good publicity to Galveston, a city hard hit by Hurricane Ike this past fall, and a popular destination for spring-breakers from all over the country.

Watch the video report from chron.com: