Hate Crimes Bill Heads for Vote Amid Mixed Christian Reactions

WASHINGTON – Conservative Christians and a few like-minded congressmen launched their last effort Tuesday to persuade Americans, especially Christians, that a hate crimes bill is not only unneeded but dangerous.

"Let me just say: everybody here believes as I do that every human being in America deserves protection, everyone," stressed Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) at the start of a press conference on Capitol Hill before the expected House vote.

But Americans – including gay, transgender and bisexual people – are already protected under existing state laws and so the passage of the hate crimes bill is not needed, the Texas lawmaker argued. He listed several popular cases often cited by proponents of the hate crimes bill and noted that even without the legislation convicted hate crimes criminals all got life imprisonment or the death penalty.

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"When you look at sexual orientation and you examine the Diagnostic Statistic Manual that sets out all the different medical and psychological conditions, there are about 30 different types of sexual orientations and they can include exhibitionism or voyeurism or things so offensive such as pedophilia or necrophilia and bestiality," Gohmert said.

Supporters of the bill, he emphasized, did not want to exclude any of those sexual orientations and even voted down the amendment to exclude pedophilia.

"So what can be the purpose [of the bill] if there is no epidemic [and] there is no need because it doesn't change the outcome of cases around the country? Then what can be the purpose?" Gohmert asked.

A fellow lawmaker later offered an answer and claimed that the "bad" piece of legislation is to repay some of the Democratic Party's supporters.

Meanwhile, Christian leaders mainly zeroed in on attacking the bill for endangering the free speech of pastors and any Christians who want to speak out against homosexuality. Under another existing law, if a person aids, counsels or induces someone to commit a crime, then that person is just as guilty as the one who committed the crime.

"It is going to cause, in a critical moment in U.S. history, a chilling effect in the pulpit where we cannot preach about biblical morality and sexuality," said Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Coalition (HILC) and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland.

"I know it is not politically correct to say that certain lifestyles are not condoned by the Bible, but in this day those of us who are leaders in the faith community got to make a choice to be biblically correct or politically correct," said the black megachurch pastor and long-time registered Democrat. "And I believe if we are biblically correct we will impact the nation."

H.R. 1913, named the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009, 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.

"The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act is creating a special level of protection for homosexuals that many other vulnerable groups are being denied," criticized Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Others that have spoken out against the bill, and did so again on Tuesday at the press conference, include the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the American Association of Christian Schools, among others..

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, have their own backing of Christian leaders including Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Dr. David P. Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia. They argue that the bill does protect freedom of speech while strengthening the federal government's ability to prosecute violent crimes motivated by bias.

 "I would think that the followers of Jesus would be first in line to protect any group from hate crimes," said Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland - A Church Distributed in Florida, who has expressed support for the hate crimes bill. "He was the one who intervened against religious violence aimed at the woman caught in the act of adultery. He protected her while not condoning her behavior."

 "This bill protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack," Hunter continued. "I strongly endorse this bill."

Others Christian leaders that support the hate crimes bill include the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and Stephen Schneck, director of Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The hate crimes bill was expected to be voted on Wednesday by the House of Representatives. President Obama urged members of the House in a statement Tuesday to pass H.R. 1913 while also protecting the freedom of speech.

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