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Seems Like Everyone's Hating on this Hate Crimes Bill, Except Congress

April 24, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

At 4PM on Wednesday, Congress will move one critical step closer towards initiating another fierce battle in the Culture War.

That’s when the House Judiciary Committee is planning to mark up H.R. 1592, a bill that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes committed against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender. The bill would also allow the U.S. Attorney General to provide assistance to state and local officials in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes cases. Once the committee votes to mark up the bill, it could appear on the House floor to be voted on as early as next week.

In both the House and the Senate, the bill has a bipartisan cast of co-sponsors. And so far, President Bush has not announced any plans to veto it. However, there is a very large part of the public who vehemently oppose this bill and have opposed similar bills in the past. But this time the stakes are higher. With the House and Senate both controlled by the Democrats for the first time in twelve years, the bill finally has a chance at being approved by Congress and becoming law.

The Religious Right has built up a strong base of opposition to the bill, and they have three distinct objections: it would limit free speech, favor homosexuals above the general public, and further federalize crime.

Limits Free Speech

Many groups are claiming that religious leaders who speak out against homosexuality will be convicted of hate crimes under this bill. Here is one example of such a claim from the Traditional Values Coalition:

>If passed and signed into law, it will be used to establish a legal framework to investigate, persecute and prosecute pastors, businessmen and others whose actions are based upon and reflect the truths found in the Bible. So-called “hate speech” could become the target of zealous pro-homosexual federal prosecutors – which could include a pastor’s sermon against homosexual behaviors!

However, the bill states explicitly that it only covers crimes resulting in bodily injury. From the bill text:

>Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—

…prison sentence specifics follow in the bill text.

Creates a “Victim Hierarchy”

Allen Chambers of Exodus International, a religious group that provides support for former homosexuals, argues that the bill unfairly favors homosexuals:

> “®eally what we’re saying is this legislation is unfair, because it means that I was more valuable as a homosexual than I am today as a former homosexual,” Chambers told reporters before he began visiting on Capitol Hill April 17. “You know, this law would give special protection to those who are gay and lesbian, yet it doesn’t give any protection to those who are children. That’s saying that a gay man is more valuable than a child, is more valuable than a grandmother, is more valuable than the majority of Americans. That’s just not fair.”

The obvious response to this claim is that the bill actually protects people of all sexual orientations equally. For example, if someone committed a crime resulting in bodily injury against a heterosexual person because he or she was a heterosexual, it would be considered a hate crime under this bill.

Federalizes Crime

The Constitution does not give Congress the power to punish crimes committed within any of the states, and thus that power goes to the states themselves. However, Congress has successfully taken up legislation dealing with crimes such as gun possession within a school zone, wife beating, carjacking, and female genital cutting. They are able to do this because these crimes, they claim, affect interstate commerce. Here is the section of the bill text that the bill’s authors included to support their claim:

>Such violence substantially affects interstate commerce in many ways, including the following:
> (A) The movement of members of targeted groups is impeded, and members of such groups are forced to move across State lines to escape the incidence or risk of such violence.
> (B) Members of targeted groups are prevented from purchasing goods and services, obtaining or sustaining employment, or participating in other commercial activity.
> © Perpetrators cross State lines to commit such violence.
> (D) Channels, facilities, and instrumentalities of interstate commerce are used to facilitate the commission of such violence.
> (E) Such violence is committed using articles that have traveled in interstate commerce.

At a hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, on April 17, Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute testified as to why he believes it would be a mistake to federalize hate crimes:

>In United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), the Supreme Court finally struck down a federal criminal law, the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990, because the connection between handgun possession and interstate commerce was simply too tenuous. 3 In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that if Congress had been given authority over matters that simply “affect” interstate commerce, much if not all of the enumerated powers set forth in article I, section 8 would be surplusage. Indeed, it is difficult to dispute Justice Thomas’ conclusion that an interpretation of the commerce power that “makes the rest of §8 surplusage simply cannot be correct.”
>This Congress should not exacerbate the errors of past Congresses by federalizing more criminal offenses. The Commerce Clause is not a blank check for Congress to enact whatever legislation it deems to be “good and proper for America.” The proposed hate crimes bill is simply beyond the powers that are delegated to Congress.

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  • Anonymous 04/26/2007 9:56am

    Very good. Way to bring up the commerce clause. As any student of constitutional law knows, the commerce clause has a very interesting evolution during our country’s history. Anyway, as mentioned, the commerce clause is what allows the federal gov’t to do much of what it does.

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