New Federal Hate Crimes Law


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Another gay rights issue that has divided people of faith is hate crime legislation. President Obama signed an expansion of the hate crime law that makes it a federal offense to attack people because of their sexual orientation. Some faith leaders welcomed the hate crime expansion, calling it a human rights victory. But others fear it would inhibit religious speech, even though the law explicitly says no one will be prosecuted for their beliefs or speech.

Here to examine the issue is David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times who has covered religious liberty questions. David, welcome. Why do what appear to be a fair number of religious conservatives think this new law or this extension of the law is wrong?

post01DAVID KIRKPATRICK (New York Times Staff Writer): Well, if you believe yourself to be engaged in a culture war, a part of which is about the nature of sexuality and homosexuality, then you want to convey to your children, you want to teach your children that homosexuality is a sin. It’s something to be avoided. It’s not a natural kind of behavior. And now comes along a statute that is going to say homosexuals are a kind of person worthy of not only special respect but special protection. You’re going to see that as a defeat.

ABERNETHY: But what about seeing it as a threat to free speech, even to what a pastor might say in the pulpit? Some people have said pastors could be prosecuted for preaching the biblical view of homosexuality and other things like that. What about that?

KIRKPATRICK: That’s overblown. Okay, I mean, clearly this does not suspend the First Amendment, and there’s nobody, I think, on either side of the US Senate or House of Representatives that intends to see preachers locked in jail. But we get overblown rhetoric on the left and the right, and the reason why this particular overblown rhetoric finds some purchase in the minds of people out there is because there is an element of thought involved. You know, what a hate crime does is it adds to the penalty to an aggressive or criminal act if the person who perpetrated it was motivated by a special disdain for the person they’re hitting. You know, if someone is standing outside of a bar saying “I hate gay people” and then slugs a gay person, that’s a hate crime, and it does have something to do with their reasoning and their thinking, so it’s not ludicrous to think that a kind of thought is being penalized here.

ABERNETHY: And even that it might apply to a sermon?

KIRKPATRICK: Well, that goes a little bit far, but, you know, suppose a pastor gave a sermon about how terrible sodomy is, and then later that day he happened to get into a fight with a gay man. Well, he could be in trouble.

ABERNETHY: But what about just a parishioner who heard a sermon and then went out and did something? Would that, then—would the pastor then be held responsible for that?

KIRKPATRICK: I’m not a lawyer, but that seems pretty far-fetched to me. However, on the other hand, you know, if you’re an active participant in a congregation that spends a lot of time talking about what a sin sodomy is, and then you happen to get in an altercation with a gay man, I think that that could plausibly raise questions, and if you want to, you know, if we’re going to try to be as sympathetic as we can to the people who are concerned about this, let’s look at college campuses. You know, that’s a place where, within the context of the campus, people do regulate free speech, and they do regulate hate speech, and I think that there are some people who think, well, goodness, I don’t want my son or daughter to end up at a secular college where by reading certain passages of the Bible they’re going to trigger, you know, speech codes. So they’re not—it’s not completely irrational to feel like there’s something at stake here.

ABERNETHY: David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. Many thanks.

  • Rev. M.A. Hurst

    It is well past time for Christians to fully recognise that all people are created in God’s image and precious in His sight and to truly “love one another”. We should remember the wisdom of the German clergyman, Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
    Jesus himself spoke out against the stoning of the woman taken in adultery. How can Christians of good conscience ignore the many lessons of non-discrimination in Scripture and implicitly if not explicitly condone hate crimes?

  • Joshua

    This was a pretty irresponsible article because you fail to mention that hate crimes protections for religion have existed since the 1980s.

    When a Christian minister preaches against “non-believers” and sometimes Muslims in particular, how many times has that turned into him/her being prosecuted??? I only hear crickets because, as far as I known, it has never happened.

    To suggest, as the Right Wing pundits have and you continue to propagate, that ministers/priests/pastors in the pulpit are going to be under some new scrutiny is irresponsible.

    It IS irrational to feel like there is “something at stake”. Even at “secular” colleges where speech is controlled, religious speech has the widest berth: it mainly tackles vulgarity, rudeness, and insighting (mob) language.

  • Bob M

    The interesting thing is how often the interviewee used the word “special”. What is special about telling people they cannot use slurs to justify violence against a group?

    It’s called fag-bashing, and it has been allowed too long in this “democracy”. The fact that it took 27 years to pass such an obvious law is shameful.

  • darlene kaiser

    does this cover monority crime against white.

  • Jsmith

    No surprise, since this is a liberal website, that so far everyone defended this. It’s noteworthy, but not mentioned, that administration members said this would NOT be used to defend Christians. If we’re going to have a hate crimes bill, let’s make it cover us all, not just the priviledged.

  • T Vargo

    Rev. Hurst, You do well to point out how we forget the lessons of non-discrimination in scripture but, did you forget the multitude of scripture – God’s own voice to us – that says sodomy is a sin against His holiness. If God himself calls it sin then who dares to call it by any other name. That does not however change His love for the person trapped in the sin – He still loves them and so should we but, not what they do. He excepts us AS WE ARE but also says to us – by My power in you – GO AND SIN NO MORE.

  • DGordon

    In the interview it says that there is nobody on either side of the House or Senate that intends to see preachers locked in prison. At this point, though, it’s not really up to them, is it? The law has been written and now it’s up to the liberal judges that insist of legislating from the bench to “interpret” the intent of this law.

  • Ron

    It’s wrong to legislate what people can think. I am opposed to all hate crime laws. If you commit act against someone that violates their rights, then you should be prosecuted. It should make no difference what the reason for the act was. People should have the right to believe and say what they want. Your right to believe what you want should not be used against you if you commit a crime.

  • Renita M

    Rev. M.A. Hurst why target Christians. They are not the only faith that preaches against man/man women/women relationships. The majority of the faiths teach that it should be man/women. Quit singling out one faith. What a dis-service!

  • toshi nobe

    I read the Rev. M.A. Hurst’s texts to targeting the American culture. The history of Christ in our culture is bred into our fabric from the beginning of this country. We cannot remove this fact from our education; if one believes in other faiths which is his/her right to do so but when one ignores this fact and abstains from understanding the nature of Judeo-Christian and its impact on the culture without giving a thought, one will be struggling with his personage in this country, meaning that one will not become free. In order to value an American citizenship, the Judeo-Christian values must be studied and understood in relationship to the individual’s life’s journey. Other people with other faiths have the right to speak in the context of our laws and the culture. The culture carries the weight of the ethics and the morals (mannerism) which is mostly based on the Judeo-Christian social fabric. Other faiths that have immigrated into this country since the country was founded may have to assert one’s self to this fact as the most immigrants have learned to speak and adopt the English language for his full sense of becoming a citizen. The assimilation process is not easy, but in order to be most productive as a citizen, one’s effort is needed in understanding and acceptance of our American way of life. Most of us exercise the American essence of the cultural values that have been foundational which that has been inbred into our social fabric. So us Christians do care about how we as people affect the value system of fairness and justice under the law for all. The difference of the faith and culture must be carefully weighed before one can grasp the ideal of so called American freedom which many enjoy in this country. It takes an effort to uncage himself/herself from being an outsider. Or One can be miserable all to self and negatively affecting others. Peace and blessings.

  • Bob King

    Let us remember something important here. If there is the slightest question whatsoever that a crime was NOT a hate crime, it won’t even be prosecuted as such. There are two legal hurdles here.

    First, the actual crime must be proven. This statute is not about rude words and hurt feelings. It is about killings. It is about assaults. It’s about raping people with foreign objects because “they will probably like it.”

    It is about specific sorts of hatred leading people to commit crimes of violence against particular people for reasons that are – far too often in human history – excused or mandated by various religions and cults of all sorts and stripes over far too many millennia.

    And then, second, the question of motive has to be proven. This is a high bar, and it will not be met without the person who did it doing or saying something that makes it very damned obvious that was in his or her brain. So let’s remember that this legislation will only be used in cases similar to that of Matthew Sheppard. It’s primarily to forestall the use of the victim’s behavior as an excuse that will persuade either judge or jury that they deserve a lesser consequence than someone who committed such a crime for more common reasons.

    But yes, in order to determine if a crime of that nature occurred, OR if someone is trying to defend against a charge of that nature, then their friends, their associates and their spiritual mentors are likely to be asked a few pointed questions about how they might have contributed to that mindset.

    While this law does not even address the point as to whether third party speech might in any way have a legal consequence – it should be clear to you from many angles that speech does have consequences and there is a moral dimension to it.

    If your faith tells you that you should be defending speech that says that sort of act is excusable in any sense at all, than I really don’t have a problem with you feeling uncomfortable. You should feel uncomfortable. The uncomfortable feeling you are trying to put off is a “come to Jesus moment,” and maybe, just maybe, your church door ain’t gonna keep Him out all that much longer.

    Scripture does not provide any absolute inarguable condemnation of homosexuality. It’s a matter of interpretation over which people of faith are genuinely divided.

    But what is NOT open to interpretation is that bearing false witness is prohibited to people of the book. That is because when you say evil about people as if it were the truth, otherwise good people may think it a good thing to take your evil words to excuse, or even mandate evil deeds.

    And that is why “hate crimes” need to be mandated.

    When institutions of faith start excusing immoral behavior in order to further particular social agendas, ethical people must write civilized moral standards into law. Civilized, ethical and yes, Godly standards.

    Because it’s needful. Once again.

    Call it the Second Reformation. Or you might consider the double-meaning of “Enlightenment” within the context of Zen teaching.

  • gene willis

    here it comes,the double fault for hate crime usage.special groups that need protecting while they themselves create hate crime atmosphere to those that are not cover under the same venue.doubl fault law.throwing white christians to the lions has come of age in diablicale senate monovering and presidentail curt tailing.sick,just plain sick.

  • d.c. garr

    Why hasn’t anyone mentioned the most obvious aspect of the term “hate crime”? Aren’t almost all crimes of violence against a person a “hate” crime? Wouldn’t you have to be full of hate (either directed outward or inward) to perpetrate violence against a person? Yes, you would, so let’s quit pretending that only certain groups are victims of “hate crimes” and give them “special” status as a victim. Every act of violence against someone is an act of hate. Whether it’s someone’s race, gender, religion, political bent, sexual orientation, social/economic status, appearance, the way they dress, their hairstyle, their size, or the fact that they’re a human being. Some people just hate other people in general – they’re anti-social. That’s why they commit such crimes. Until everyone is filled with love of their fellow man and woman, they will continue to commit acts of “hate”, which all violent crimes should be prosecuted as.

  • LKT

    Can’t we all just get along… we are all human… why can’t we live the way we want to live… why can’t we do what makes us happy… why do people want to tell other how to live their life even if it makes them un-happy??? WHY WHY WHY… One world, one life… Peace in all aspect is needed…

  • lucy

    Hate is wrong in all aspects and when any crime is commited it is a hatful thing that needs to get the length of the law handed to it. As for teaching ones child that a particular type of sexual orientation is a crime or that to speack and teach of what the bible teaches is not a crime as you are trying to show the proper morals for your beliefs to your child or children. The is a trend the I have observed that show a fad for the homosexual lifestyle, coming out of hollywood as a possible way of getting attention, now they have the bi-polar thing to jump onto. Now we can see that some of Hollywood are bi-polar homosexuals. Talk about crazy. Anyway, to be homosexual is to be that way and does not need to throw it in others faces as it is just stupid to do so. I don’t wait for the hetrosexual parade to go down my main street as it is just a given that there are hetrosexuals around as are there homosexuals. I have taught my kids that homosexuality is a wrong choice and does not go the way of good morals, neither is bisexuality. It is immoral any way you look at it. the truth of the matter is that the aids virus is an insideous killer that effect drug addicts and homosexuals mostly. Of the hetrosexual populace, they had a drug problem or were ingaged in sexual relations with someone who dabbled in homosexual behaviour and caught it from a homosexual person. It is a very dark area to tread and the lifestyle is not a safe one to choose. I told my kids that to be free from sexual diseases is to not be with those who have gone willy nilly with anyone. This society has gone, in my opinion, too far into the gray zone sexually and doesn’t appear to care about the possibility of future repercussions hitting them in the future. It is sad really, working in hospitals as I did years ago, I saw the aids virus kill alot of guys who were very nice people who had a terrible thing happen to them. I saw it go into the black community, mostly the getto as the poorness of the population led them to illicit lifestyles, opening them to this thing. At one time, good morals was the norm and was expected and the ones who were into a looser lifestyle were not as with that lifestyle came some form of disease of problems.
    They can pass whatever laws they want, but I will continue to believe what I believe and let my children know it is wrong. My children are of the same thinking, thank God. The homosexual friends that I have come to know and love will always be in my thoughts and prayers but I would never wish their lifestyle on anyone.
    In Canada, a minister was jailed for reading romans that speaks against homosexuality. That is a major concern in these so called hate crimes for me. What is the real reason behind these so called laws has me wondering. I don’t trust this so called government, be it democrat or republican as it stands right now. We the people don’t seem to be in the equation.


    yes,doing a crime and hurting otheres in the commission of a crime is in fact a hate crime unto it’s self.what is being talked about is taking othere groups and making there crimes against them more then anyone elses.eric holder said it himself.pres. obama signed it into law.either hate crimes cover everyone with equal protection,or we have a onesided law for punishable crimes.sexual oreiantation is best left to those who wish to practice this religion.however,this type of religion should not be taught to children.