WASHINGTON – Conservative Christian groups were quick to denounce the senate's attachment of a hate crimes amendment to the defense funding bill, criticizing the measure for elevating some violent crimes above others.
Opponents of the political ploy argue all violent acts should be given equal justice instead of designating some worse than others when the end results are the same. They contend it is a "dangerous mistake" to rank crimes of violence based on purported motives or the identity of the victim as the proposed amendment would do.
"Murder is murder and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of the possible motives of the murderer or the racial, ethnic or sexual identity of the victim," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to the Baptist Press.
"It's called blind justice for a reason," he added. "It is why the symbol for law is a blindfolded woman holding the scales of justice. It's called blind justice because justice should be meted out based on actions, refusing to take into account the particular identities of perpetrators or victims."
Tony Perkins, president of Washington-based Family Research Council, would agree.
He pointed out the hate crimes legislation is a "direct violation" of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
"Congress needs to remember that preserving equal justice under the law is more important than scoring points with advocates of homosexual behavior," Perkins said in a statement.
"All violent crimes are hate crimes, and every victim is equally important…All our citizens deserve equal justice under the law," he said. "Congress should represent all Americans, not give special protections for some."
The U.S. Senate voted to attach the hate crimes bill to the high-priority Department of Defense authorization bill Thursday in a political maneuver to pressure President Bush to pass the contentious amendment.
The measure seeks to add violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to the list of federal hate crimes involving prejudice against an individual's race, color, religion, and national origin.
Co-sponsors Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) claim it is appropriate to attach the hate crimes amendment to the massive defense funding bill – which includes the Iraq war – because both combat terrorist behavior.
However, opponents retorted that Kennedy's action will delay funds to U.S. troops and that raising a "special interest" bill at such an urgent time is inappropriate.
Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues at Concerned Women for America, expressed anger that the Massachusetts senator "would hold our soldiers hostage" with the defense bill by attaching a "totally unrelated, dangerous" hate crimes amendment, according to OneNewsNow.
Similarly, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, "I think it's shameful we're changing the subject to take care of special interest legislation at a time like this," according to The Associated Press.
The hate crimes amendment as a single bill was originally criticized by Christian leaders for threatening the right of the church and believers to preach about the biblical sin of homosexuality.
Prominent Christian leaders, such as Chuck Colson and Dr. James Dobson, defended the right of people of faith to speak out on their religious beliefs.
Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship and former top aide for then President Richard Nixon, highlighted cases in Europe, Canada and even in the United States where Christians have been prosecuted for peaceful speech on the sin of homosexuality.
"[I]n Pennsylvania, 11 Christians were prosecuted under the state's hate crime law for preaching on a street corner against homosexuality," he noted, referring to the case of the ten adults and one teenager who were arrested shortly after "sexual orientation" was added to the state's hate crimes law as a victim category in 2004. The group was reportedly singing hymns and carrying signs peacefully at a homosexual celebration in Philadelphia.
"The Hate Crimes Act will be the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful," said Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action, in a message for a petition to oppose the bill.
"Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution," he noted.
Dobson has also pointed to ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as another "equally or even more dangerous" bill in Congress. ENDA would force non-profit organizations – such as Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army – to hire homosexuals or "individuals hostile to our firmly held moral beliefs."
"Why are Americans seeing such an onslaught of pro-homosexual/drag queen bills being rammed through the House and Senate this month?" asked Traditional Values Coalition executive director Andrea Lafferty.
The conservative leader noted that the Human Rights Campaign, a well-known pro-gay rights group, is holding an event for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Oct. 3.
"They want to have a legislative victory to crow about at this Pelosi event," Lafferty suggested. "Congress is committed to catering to the homosexual/drag queen lobby rather than being committed to the truth.
"And," she added, "they're willing to exploit our military by adding this non-germane amendment to a defense budget bill."
President Bush vowed earlier this year to veto the hate crimes bill if it made it to his desk when the House passed its version of the amendment in May. Bush is expected to veto the new bill despite its attachment to the must-pass defense spending bill.
"I hope and pray that if this bill makes its way to the president's desk that he will fulfill his promise to veto it," said Baptist leader Land.