Hate Crimes Legislation Stopped by House Conference Committee

The House conference committee has stripped from the 2005 Defense Authorization Bill an amendment that pro-family groups feared would limit free speech by expanding the definition of a hate crime to include homosexuals.

On Sept. 28, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a procedural motion encouraging the House conference committee to approve hate crimes legislation, which the Senate already passed in July. The House conference committee did not follow the vote.

The measure, proposed by Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) to the defense bill, would have created a special victims category by adding “sexual orientation” to what is considered the basis for a hate crime, next to crimes based on gender, disabilities, race, color, religion, or national origin. According to the removed amendment, financial support would have been provided for state and local investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes.

California Governor Arnold Schartzeneggar recently approved a hate-crime bill adding “sexual orientation” as a protected class that includes homosexuals, transsexuals, and cross-dressers.

Pro-family leaders such as Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, worried that if the bill would have muzzled “public discussion of homosexuality and even some day silence pastors.” Though there is more than one case to illustrate the impact of a hate crime law on prohibiting a Christian viewpoint on homosexuality, pro-family groups often point to a case where a Swedish pastor was sentenced to a month in jail for referring to homosexuality as an "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumour in the body of society,” during a sermon in 2003.

Opponents of the measure also believe hate crimes legislation should be handled on a local instead of a federal level.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, who supports the hate crimes legislation, said it won’t be the last time the measure will appear.

He said, “We will be back again and again, and we will continue to bring this legislation up every opportunity we can until it is signed into law.”