April 29th, 2009
05:35 PM ET
4 years ago

House passes hate crimes bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday expanding federal protection against hate crimes to disability, gender, and
sexual orientation.

The bill, which was approved by a margin of 249-175, passed in a sharply-divided partisan vote. An overwhelming majority of Democrats supported the measure, while most Republicans were opposed.

The proposal, which now moves to the Senate for further consideration, is one of the most sensitive civil rights issues to come before the Congress in years. Currently, federal law covers only a person's race, religion, or national origin.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would also expand federal protection against hate crimes to acts committed under any circumstance, as opposed to acts committed only when an individual is engaged in certain federally-designated activities, such as voting.

Known as the Matthew Shepard Act, the measure would allow the attorney general to issue grants to cities and states for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

Shepard was a gay student at the University of Wyoming who died in 1998 after being attacked because of his sexual orientation.

The bill has received support from a range of civil rights and law enforcement groups, who argue that is a necessary addition to civil rights protections first issued over forty years ago.

"Hate crimes tear the fabric of our society ... because they target an entire community or group of people, not just the individual victim, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida, said during the debate on the House floor.

"The fact of the matter is hate crimes happen every day, and we should not wait for another Matthew Shepard to ensure justice."

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, argued in a written statement that the legislation is necessary "because hate crimes are such a unique offense. They are an attack not just on individuals but an attempt to terrorize and demoralize entire communities."

Some conservative opponents of the bill, however, argued that the bill violated traditional American conceptions of equal justice by establishing specially protected groups of citizens.

"Regardless of whether a person is white, black, handicapped, healthy, old, sick, young, homosexual, heterosexual, a veteran, a police officer, (or) a senior... Whatever the case is, they deserve equal protection under the law," Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, said.

"That is the foundational premise of this nation and this legislation moves us all directly away from that. ... Whenever we begin to divide ourselves into groups and afford one group more protection than another, we necessarily diminish the protection and equality of all the remaining groups."

Other opponents warned that the legislation would undermine freedom of thought and expression.

"If this bill becomes law, it will have a chilling effect on many law-abiding Americans' freedom of expression," Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, said.

It "will start us down the road towards a public square that is less robust, more restrictive, and that will squelch our cherished constitutional right to free speech. ... We should not live and legislate in fear of bankrupt ideas."

Besides, Foxx asked, is "there such a thing as non-hateful violent crime?"

Supporters of the bill replied by claiming that there is, in fact, a distinction.

"Hate crimes are different from other types of crimes because the perpetrator targets a certain type of person based upon physical or other personal attributes," Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida said.

These "crimes are a purposeful, violent, and dangerous manifestation of prejudice. ... (They are) not only a problem for victims, but also for our communities and neighborhoods."


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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. stephen carnes

    This needs to pass for the LGBT community and other minority groups!

    April 29, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  2. Greg In Colorado

    I officially hate all republicans... they are hate mongers and soak themselves in the filth of the "moral" right. Will the last person in the republican party please turn the lights off when they leave. Stupid idiots.

    April 29, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  3. good and the penalty for a hate crime

    send them to CUBA's closing military prison Guantanemo

    April 29, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  4. Objective Thinking

    I think straight people should be protected as much as gay people.

    April 29, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  5. truth is liberal sort of

    i hate greg... please don't convict me of a hate crime.

    April 29, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  6. Rob_in_Ohio

    It amazes me how people in this country can vote against a bill that protects individuals rights. Someone that is disabled, a woman and a gay man should have equal rights under our law. Just because they are a minority, they should not be protected by our law?? ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!!! Whomever voted against this bill should be ashamed of themselves.

    April 29, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  7. Eric in Colorado

    Greg in CO, there's help, right in our own state. You can absolutely dis-agree with anyone, but don't hate them. Debate, persuade, but don't resort to hate. Next, they'll add political affiliation to the hate crime laws, then we'll all be in a protected class.

    April 29, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  8. manetric

    i don't see why passing this bill would restrict others rights or divide us as Americans. What happened to Matthew Sheppard was horrible and should never happen to anyone regardless or political affiliations, job, ethnic background, gender, or whatever. This needs to be done.

    April 29, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  9. Liberal and Proud of It dot com

    Hate crimes are thought crimes. People are being punished for thinking, not for actions. If a man kills me because he hates white people, he is no more guilty of murder than another man who kills me because he loves my wife. It is action, not thought, that should be punished. A thought can be changed. An action cannot be undone.

    Creating laws against thought is scarier than anything George Orwell ever thought of.

    April 29, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  10. LI

    It is about time this was passed. It is embarrasing how Republicans will bend over backwards to justify their and their constituents irrational homophobia.

    Stop your complaining with contrived arguments about "thought crimes", "freedom of expression" and "special" protection when the reality is you don't die when the legislation is passed, but other people have their lives and health at stake. It is clear some don't care, so they can go mind their own business.

    April 29, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  11. Troy

    The reading and/or comprehension skills of some people are atrocious. This bill protects sexual orientation. Last time I checked, heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. You're protected, too. So in the extremely unlikely event that a group of homosexuals pistol whips you and ties you to a fence post to die because you're heterosexual, you can rest assured that the perpetrators will get a charge enhancement. It's not that a criminal is charged for committing a crime against a member of a certain group; it's that the victim was attacked because they were a part of that group. Read people. Just because the victims are disproportionately members of minority groups and the perpetrators, disproportionately members of the majority group, doesn't detract from this legislation's merit.

    April 29, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  12. gary

    What is wrong with you people? What happened to Mathew Sheppard WAS AGAINST THE LAW! Enforce the laws we have! Passing new legislation is usually like this is usually done to placate the criticism when an event like this occurs and "someone should do something" is uttered by the non-thinking.
    A thinker knows that regardless of laws, people will steal from, and kill other people (thus it has always been) and all that can be done is after the fact. Enforce the laws we have and realize that it is a dangerous world out there.

    April 29, 2009 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |