WASHINGTON – Opponents of a hate crimes bill are holding steadfast to their arguments against the legislation, citing international cases as a foreshadowing of what may occur in the United States if the Senate passes it next month.
Among the greatest fears is that under the hate crimes law, pastors and Christians will risk committing a federal crime for expressing the biblical view of homosexuality – leading some to draw ties between the bill and the "Thought Police."
"See, the bill is not about crime prevention or even civil rights. It's about outlawing peaceful speech – speech that asserts that homosexual behavior is morally wrong," wrote Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and former top aid to President Richard Nixon, in a recent commentary.
Christians across the nation have protested the hate crimes bill for months, arguing that the federal bill is not only redundant of state and local laws, but it threatens religious freedom and speech.
The hate crimes legislation seeks to add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the list of racial, ethnic, and religious categories already protected under law. It would also make it easier for the federal government to become involved in hate crimes investigations.
In May, the U.S. House of Representative voted to pass the bill, which now awaits a Senate decision expected next month.
Supporters of the hate crimes bill argue that the legislation will help protect vulnerable groups from hate-motivated violence.
"This bill helps law enforcement protect vulnerable groups from hate-motivated violence, a goal that appeals to the moral foundations of all faith traditions," said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, in a statement.
Yet adamant opponents of the bill point out that a pastor who preaches against homosexuality can be accused of inciting violence if one of his congregants commits an act considered a hate crime under the legislation.
Colson, along with other concerned Christians, have noted that the "Thought Police" has already claimed Christian victims in other countries, where hate crimes includes verbal attacks or peaceful speech.
In Canada, a pastor is currently facing charges before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for writing a letter in June to a local newspaper calling the homosexual agenda "wicked."
"From kindergarten class on our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators," Pastor Stephen Boissoin wrote, according to Focus on the Family's CitizenLink.
The letter caught the attention of a human rights activist who filed a complaint against the pastor for "hate-mongering." The activist supported his case by pointing to a homosexual who was beaten up two weeks later as evidence that such speech can incite violence.
"The hate crime legislation is hatred and intolerance aimed at ministers and good Christian folks who dare to call sin 'sin,'" said Dr. Johnny M. Hunger, national director of LEARN (Life Education and Resource Network), at a hate crimes rally in Washington last month.
"Pastors not only have a right, but they have an obligation to state emphatically, that according to Scripture, a man or a woman should not perform a sex act with a person of the same sex," he said.
A more well-known case involves Swedish pastor Ake Green who was prosecuted several years ago for giving a sermon where he labeled homosexuality "abnormal" and a "perversion."
Green was sentenced to a month in jail under Sweden's hate crimes law, but was later acquitted by the country's Supreme Court. He was only acquitted after his lawyer threatened to bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights.
"In this country, anyone who 'induces' a federal crime can also be charged under federal law," noted Ashley Horne, federal issues analyst for Focus on the Family Action. "So if a parishioner who listened to his pastor's sermon on the biblical view of homosexuality later committed a violent act against a homosexual, the parishioner could be charged with a federal 'hate crime,' and his pastor could be charged federally for 'inducing a hate crime," she warned.
Last month, the prominent evangelical group Coral Ridge Ministries gathered more than 33,000 petitions against the "hate crimes" legislation and delivered them to President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"This is the single most dangerous piece of legislation we have seen in the recent past, because of its threat to silence the Church on the subject of homosexual behavior," said Jerry Newcombe, senior producer of The Coral Ridge Hour, CRM'S TV broadcast. "I shudder to think what the impact on free speech will be if this law is enacted."
"Ultimately, 'hate crimes' laws pave the way to label the Christian message as 'hate speech' and lead to criminalizing Christians," said Newcombe, co-producer of the Hate Crimes Laws video. "How can we as Christians get the vital message out that Jesus died to free us from the consequences of all our sinful lifestyles, when 'hate crimes' laws threaten to silence us? Now is the time to speak up, before we can't speak at all."
Christian leaders that have criticized the bills include Dr. James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action; Dr. Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council; Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church and chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition; Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at Concerned Women for America; Randy Thomas, executive vice president for the gay outreach ministry Exodus International; Brad Daucus, president of the Christian law firm Pacific Justice Institute; and Janet Folger, president of Faith2Action.
The White House, to its credit, warned Congress in May that the president plans to veto the hate crimes bill if it reaches the president's desk.