WASHINGTON - The majority of the American public, including Protestants, favors the expansion of the hate crimes bill to include violent attacks against gays and people targeted because of gender, a new poll found.
Just a week after faith-based groups denounced the House vote approving the legislation, the Gallup Poll revealed 68 percent of Americans are for the expansion while only 27 percent oppose it. Moreover, 65 percent of Protestant and other non-Catholic Christians said they would favor it.
Under current federal law, hate crimes apply to acts of violence against individuals on the basis of race, religion, color, or national original. H.R. 1592, the legislation currently being reviewed by the Senate, would add gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to the hate crimes law.
Highly religious Americans were less likely to favor expanding the federal hate crime laws than those who seldom attend church. Still, 64 percent of those who attend church weekly expressed that they favor the bill. Among the less religious, 67 percent of those who attend church almost every week or monthly support the expansion and 73 percent of Americans who seldom or never attend church also favor it.
A larger gap was seen between conservatives and liberals with 57 percent of the former group expressing favor and 82 of the latter showing support.
Nevertheless, no group identifiable in Gallup's standard categories – including the Republicans, Independents, Democrats, conservatives, moderates, liberals, Protestant and those with no religious identity – expressed less than majority support for the legislation that some Christians fear could strip away their right to express a biblical view on homosexuality, according to the poll report.
The May 10-13 poll was conducted a week after the House passed the bill and days before Repent America – a Philadelphia-based evangelistic organization that is an outspoken critic of homosexuality, abortion and evolution – organized the "National Hate Crimes Petition Day" on Tuesday, urging Christians to protest the legislation through phone calls, e-mail and faxes to members of the U.S. Senate.
Conservative Christian leaders say expanding the Hate Crimes Act could silence believers who view homosexuality as sinful.
"The Hate Crimes Act will be the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful. Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution," said Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson.
Repent America director Michael Marcavage stated, "We must not remain silent as our liberty to freely speak the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being threatened by those who are framing mischief by a law."
The recent Gallup Poll results, conducted on 1,003 national adults aged 18 and older, may lead those opposed to the legislation to argue that many Americans are not aware of the implications of the law, the survey group acknowledged.
However, "the challenge for opponents is that the fundamental idea of the new law seems acceptable to every identifiable subgroup of the Americans population," stated the Gallup report.
"More conservative and religious subgroups of the population may be amenable to arguments about the hidden or unanticipated consequences of the legislation if presented to them through targeted media in the weeks to come, but convincing them of these facts would appear to be an uphill battle."
As the Senate reviews the bill this week along with the U.S. Senate version S. 1105, Christian organizations have continued to voice opposition to the expansion. A spokeswoman for Focus on the Family argued that all violent crime is tied to hate in some way.
"The Virginia Tech shooter said in his diatribe that he hated rich kids. Well, rich kids aren't protected in this hate crime bill," Carrie Gordon Earll told the Baltimore Sun. "If we're going to start choosing categories of people for additional penalties when they're victimized, where does the list end?"
"[A] homosexual would have more federal protection under the law than the 32 victims of [the Virginia Tech] massacre," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Meanwhile, the White House, which argues that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable, has threatened a veto.