WASHINGTON – President Bush is ready to veto a contentious hate crimes bill that was attached last week to a massive defense spending bill, said the White House on Tuesday.
The Senate had attached the hate crimes legislation to the high-priority defense spending bill – which includes funding for the Iraq War – in a political maneuver to pressure Bush to pass the amendment.
However, the White House said Bush will not sign the hate crimes bill into law.
"The president has said overwhelmingly that these are two separate issues – that they should not be combined; and the president has reiterated his commitment to vetoing the hate crimes provision," said White House spokesman Tim Goeglein on Tuesday, according to OneNewsNow.
"So until it comes to the president either in two bills or in one bill, we will hold off getting a straight statement of administration policy," he added.
The hate crimes measure seeks to add violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability to the list of federal hate crimes. If passed, the federal government would be more involved and have greater power to investigate alleged hate crimes.
Conservative Christian groups have denounced the Senate's attachment of the hate crimes amendment to the defense funding bill, arguing that the former bill elevates some violent crimes above others.
"Congress needs to remember that preserving equal justice under the law is more important than scoring points with advocates of homosexual behavior," said Tony Perkins, president of Washington-based Family Research Council, in a statement.
"All violent crimes are hate crimes, and every victim is equally important … All our citizens deserve equal justice under the law," he said. "Congress should represent all Americans, not give special protections for some."
Co-sponsors Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) claim it is appropriate to attach the hate crimes amendment to the massive defense funding bill because both combat terrorist behavior.
However, opponents retorted that Kennedy's action will delay funds to U.S. troops and that raising a "special interest" bill at such an urgent time is inappropriate.
"I think it's shameful we're changing the subject to take care of special interest legislation at a time like this," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), according to The Associated Press.
White House's Goeglein also agrees it is "the height of irresponsibility" for senators to link the hate crimes legislation, which Bush has repeatedly vowed to veto, with the "necessary" Pentagon spending bill.
Many Christian leaders fear that the hate crime bill will inhibit pastors from speaking about homosexuality as a biblical sin and be interpreted in a way that bans even peaceful speech against the lifestyle. As example, leaders have pointed to hate-crime laws in England, Sweden and Canada, where Christians have been prosecuted for breaking these laws.
Furthermore, in the United States, 11 Christians in Pennsylvania were prosecuted under the state's hate crimes law shortly after "sexual orientation" was added as a victim category several years ago. According to reports, the ten adults and one teenager were singing hymns and carrying signs peacefully at a homosexual celebration in Philadelphia when they were arrested.
"The Hate Crimes Act will be the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful," Dr. James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action, said in a message for a petition to oppose the bill.
On Monday night, the Senate passed the $648.30 billion defense spending bill with the hate crimes amendment. The Senate and House committees will now have to find common grounds between their two versions before a single bill reach the president's desk for signing.