Congress dropped legislation this week that would have expanded federal hate crimes protections to include homosexuals and transgendered individuals.
House and Senate negotiators decided to strip the provision from the 2008 Defense Authorization bill on Thursday after concluding that the bill lacked the necessary votes to pass in the House.
One House Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because conference negotiations are ongoing, said the bill was 40 votes short of passage, The Associated Press reported.
The measure sought to extend federal hate crimes laws – which currently protects individuals on the basis of race, religion and national origin – to individuals with "actual or perceived" sexual orientation or gender identity. If approved, the tacked-on amendment would have also authorized federal authorities to provide assistance to local authorities in hate crime investigations.
Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), argued that the measure was relevant to the defense authorization bill because it represented an effort to stop violence at the home front.
However, the bill's opponents, which included conservative Democrats and Republicans, said the amendment was irrelevant to the defense legislation and unnecessary since laws already cover violent acts against individuals.
Republicans expected President Bush to veto the bill if it included the hate crimes measure. The White House administration had agreed the provision was unnecessary and unrelated to the defense bill.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said in a written statement Thursday that the bill "would have politicized the defense bill during a time of armed conflict" and be a disservice to troops.
Pro-family and Christians groups considered Thursday's decision to drop the hate crimes language a victory for religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Some had referred to the provision as "thought crimes" legislation, saying it would criminalize thoughts or speech since the motivation of a person charged with hate crime would be evaluated. They also pointed to sticky situations where a pastor could be prosecuted for inciting a hate crime for preaching homosexuality as sin to his congregation.
"This is a big win for the cause of religious freedom and freedom of speech," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), who had urged constituents to ask members of Congress to oppose the bill if it included the hate crimes language.
"For this victory, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the courageous members of the House who refused to bow to the pressure of political correctness and stood up for the constitutional principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion," added Land in a Baptist Press report.
The Christian Coalition of America, which had also called on supporters to ask Congress members to strike down the bill, was pleased with the removal of the hate crimes legislation, according to an e-mail sent by the group's president, Robert Combs.
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of conservative group Traditional Values Coalition, claimed that although congressional Democrats knew the hate crimes measure lacked support for passage, they pushed ahead anyway to ease an attempt to revive the legislation next year.
"This is a short-term, but significant victory for traditional values," said Lafferty in a statement. "The Democrats are desperate to appease their homosexual allies, so I expect the hate crimes issue to be back again next year after the Christmas recess."
Lafferty also warned in a One News Now report that next year Democrats would continue their efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which seeks to add "sexual orientation" to a list of federally protected classes under a 1964 act that prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
The Senate had voted to include the hate crimes amendment in September. Earlier in May, the House had passed the Defense bill that did not include the provision by a 397-27 vote.