WASHINGTON – As the U.S. Senate reviews a bill that many Christians say may threaten their right to express their biblical view on homosexuality, more Christians have been accused of being "homophobic" and threatened with penalties for expressing opposition to homosexuality, leading several concerned Christian groups to stage a protest this week against the bill.
A coalition of pro-family organizations against the Senate bill S. 1105 will take a public stand against the hate crimes legislation by holding a news conference followed by a demonstration on Capitol Hill this coming Wednesday.
Opponents of the bill argue that it is unnecessary because the people the legislation seeks to protect are already covered by other laws. Yet in addition to being redundant, the bill further threatens to censor the free speech of pastors and Christians who, for example, speak out about their biblical views on the sin of homosexuality.
"We already have laws for those who act violently towards others," said Michael Marcavage, president of Repent America, according to OneNewsNow.
Repent America – a Philadelphia-based evangelistic organization that is an outspoken critic of homosexuality, abortion and evolution – is one of the main organizers of the rally.
"As Christians we do not advocate violence against other people, so that's not an issue," he said. "However, the lawmakers in Washington are attempting to criminalize Christians because of their faith in Jesus Christ and because they choose to speak the truth of God's Word."
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass an expanded federal hate crime bill that added the hate crime categories of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability to the original list of race, religion, color or national origin. The bill, H.R. 1592, also made it easier for the federal government to get involved in hate crime investigations.
The House bill H.R. 1592 along with the Senate version S. 1105 are now both being reviewed by the Senate.
The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it makes it to the president's desk, explaining that state and local criminal laws have already address hate crimes featured in the bills.
"The administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin," stated the White House early in May. "However, the administration believes that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.
The hate crimes battle has not only affected pastors and Christian leaders speaking out against what they consider sins, but also pro-family advocates.
Last month, in Oakland, Calif., a case concluded in defeat for pro-family advocates seeking the right to use the phrase "marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values" in public flyers when the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of Oakland administrators to exclude pro-family speech as divisive and hateful.
A group of African-American Christian women working for Oakland's city government had requested permission to distribute the flyers through the city's email system, noting that the "natural family" is the foundation of society in 2002.
Although administrators have allowed homosexual employees to use the system to promote a gay pride rally and similar events, they rejected the Christian flyers as "homophobic" and "disruptive," claiming that it intended to "create a hostile environment," according to the World Congress of Families (WCF) - the international network of pro-family organizations that popularized the expression "natural family."
Their flyers were removed from the municipal bulletin board and the women were warned similar action could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination."
"Under this standard, interest groups of which the left approves are free to promote their views through a government apparatus," Allen Carlson, international secretary of WCF, said in a statement. "If pro-family forces seek to counter that advocacy, their views are labeled 'hate speech' and accordingly suppressed."
Highlighting fears that the federal hate crimes bills will further encroach on freedom to express religious beliefs, many prominent Christian leaders have publicly criticized the legislations .
"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.
"Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution," he noted.
Other Christian leaders that have criticized the bills include 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.
Pro-family groups participating in this week's anti-hate crimes bill rally include Elijah Ministries, Pass the Salt Ministries, Minutemen United, and Brotherhood of a New Destiny.