The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will vote on a controversial legislation next week that seeks to add homosexual and transgender people to the list of classes federally protected from hate crimes.
H.R. 1913, named the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009, is expected to be passed by the committee next week and come to the House floor for a vote in the spring, announced Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the original co-sponsor of the bill and an openly gay member of Congress, on his website.
An identical legislation (H.R. 1592) was passed by the U.S. House in 2007. The Senate later attached the hate crimes legislation to a high-priority defense spending bill, which included funding for the Iraq War, in a political maneuver to pressure former president George W. Bush to pass the amendment.
But Bush said the spending bill and the hate crime legislation were two separate issues and vetoed the bill including the legislation.
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. Current federal law covers crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, color or national origin. If passed, the federal government would be more involved and have greater power to investigate alleged hate crimes.
Critics of the hate crimes legislation fear that if passed, the legislation would inhibit pastors from speaking about homosexuality as a biblical sin and be interpreted in a way that bars speech against the lifestyle.
Christian leaders have pointed to hate crime laws in England, Sweden and Canada, where Christians have been prosecuted for breaking these laws.
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 at a homosexual celebration in Philadelphia when they were arrested.
But Rep. Frank assured that the new bill would only apply to violent crimes and "does not infringe on free speech in any way."
President Obama has expressed support for the hate crime legislation in the past and is expected to sign the bill if passed.
Christian leaders who have spoken against the 2007 hate crimes legislation include Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Action; Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council; Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church and chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition.