Sen. John McCain spoke out Wednesday against the "bipartisan" efforts of 44 Democrats and 2 Republicans to attach a hate crimes bill to a $680 billion bill meant to approve defense programs.
The Arizona senator told fellow lawmakers on the Senate floor Wednesday that the Defense Authorization bill is not the appropriate vehicle for consideration of the hate crimes amendment and that any legislation that is a priority should follow the regular order.
"The language in this amendment has not even been marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee this session. Why should we circumvent the committee process," McCain asked.
Furthermore, the amendment could end up derailing a bill that proponents say is necessary for supporting U.S. troops.
"I have asked members not to play games with this Defense Authorization bill by adding non-related amendments, including this one," McCain said.
"The underlying bill authorizes a 3.4 percent pay raise for all military personnel, provides billions in funding for new equipment for our men and women in uniform and offers billions of dollars for new technologies to keep our armed forces safe from our enemies. Are members willing to jeopardize these essential provisions for our troops by pushing unrelated amendments?" the former presidential contender asked.
The hate crimes bill, which passed the House in a similar version in April, enjoys solid support in the Democrat-controlled Senate and is backed by President Obama. If passed, the measure would extend federal hate crimes protections to gays and the disabled, making it easier for federal prosecutors to get involved in hate crimes cases.
But, according to critics, the legislation – sometimes referred to as the "thought crimes" legislation – could also make it harder for many law enforcement officials and possibly the victims, who would be subjected to questions about their "race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability" while still traumatized from the crime.
"The bill provides little guidance to law enforcement and raises more questions than answers," said McCain Wednesday.
"[I]f this amendment was to become law, police officers and prosecutors would be forced to treat identical crimes differently depending on the police officer or prosecutor's determination of the political, philosophical, or even religious beliefs of the offender. This is absolutely wrong," he added.
Going further, the senator made clear his belief that crimes motivated by "hate" deserve vigorous prosecution, but so do crimes motivated by absolute wanton disregard for life of any kind.
"I believe that all crimes should be vigorously prosecuted in order to protect one of our most fundamental rights – the right to be free from physical harm," McCain stated. "And I believe that anyone who is motivated by hatred and commits a crime should be prosecuted just as vigorously as anyone who is motivated by absolute wanton disregard for life."
Despite strong protest from conservative and Christian groups, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called for a vote to move forward on the hate crimes measure.
Though that vote, requiring 60 supporters, could come as early as Thursday, the timing for a final vote on the amendment was uncertain.
Still, knowing that a vote on the bill is "imminent," groups including the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention are rallying concerned citizens to contact their senators this week and urge them to vote "no" on the hate crimes amendment.
"It would lay the groundwork for prosecuting Christians who share their biblical beliefs against homosexuality," expressed ERLC President Dr. Richard Land on Wednesday.
"This dangerous bill must be stopped," he exclaimed.