April 29th, 2009
11:30 AM ET
10 years ago

House to vote on hate crimes bill

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on expanding federal protection against hate crimes to disability, gender, and sexual orientation.

The proposal 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.

Most "Americans regardless of their race, religion or political affiliation support this legislation," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a written statement.

"They understand that the time to get this legislation to the president's desk is long overdue. ... Local jurisdictions continue to need the additional resources necessary to prosecute the hate violence that spreads fear and panic throughout entire communities."

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, argued 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 leading religious conservatives, however, have come out in opposition to the bill, arguing that it could be used to infringe on an individual's freedom of speech.

Traditional Values Coalition Chairman Rev. Louis Sheldon said in a written statement that the bill would ensure "open season on pastors and churchgoers." He argued that a pastor could be theoretically charged with conspiracy to commit a hate crime if an individual heard that pastor's sermon and then acted "aggressively" against someone based on his or her sexual orientation.


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soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. smiff

    GuyinIA

    Gay isnt the issue with you. FAIR AND WISE APPLIES TO YOU. Common sense goes a long way my man....THANKS!!!!!!

    April 29, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  2. Katie

    Mens Rea is already taken into account, but more is needed. Hate crimes are when somebody is targeted because of what they are, not just because they were an easy target. Angie Zapata, Gwen Araujo, Brandon Teena, and thousands of others have been murdered specifically because they was transsexual. Matthew Shepard was murdered specifically because he was homosexual. The murders targeted their victims because they were different.

    Hate crimes are terrorism by another name.

    April 29, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  3. chellshock

    Just out of curiousity..the ones making the law..are they going to abide by it as well..probably not..

    April 29, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  4. demetrios

    what's important is that you love you neighbor you don't have to like what people do that's a God giving right you just don't follow what people do why hate that your business what you do. or don't do.i'm i gay no i'm i a murderer no do i hate muslim no or jesus no i love him but that's my choice not your so lets grow up put the childish thing down

    April 29, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  5. conspiracytheoristIIAM

    The most overdue piece of legislation; is the one that outlaws the making of any more laws!!!We don't need more laws.....we need enforcement of those existing. Let's see........I'm a big fat guy ,and of course it's against the law to be fat, just for my own good........so , if I'm thinking about a big chocolate donut , I deserve having theTHOUGHT POLICE bring me to justice to keep society safe???

    April 29, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. Steve in Sherman Oaks

    Crime is crime, but punishment is always a function of the degree of wrongdoing or the increased deterrent value we get from a harsher punishment. Vehicular manslaughter and muder for hire can both result in the death of someone else but we treat them differently for these same reasons. Hate crimes deserve greater punishment because they are motivated by feelings we as a society want to quash – bigotry, misogeny, homophobia. This is an entirely appropriate use of legislation. Moreover, tracking these crimes allows for better law enforcement.

    April 29, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  7. KG, Twin Cities

    GuyinIA, think of it this way - would that person have left you alone if they didn't know you were gay? If the answer is yes, then throw the book at them if your preference was their problem and reason for attacking you.

    April 29, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  8. Raymond

    Next, outdoor church services will be viewed as "hate-crimes" as offending atheists, agnostics, and pro-abortion advocates will become reprehensible.

    And when will we begin prosecuting the military? They harm those poor innocent terrorists who are only seeking to draw attention to their oppressed causes.

    April 29, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. Scubaky38

    There are several passages in the New Testament (and some from Jesus) that tell us that homosexuality is wrong...and just because I think it is wrong doesn't mean that I hate those people.

    Since when is disagreeing with someone or a behavior labeled automatically as "hate"...? Talk about narrow-minded!!

    Thoughts don't kill someone-actions do! A crime is a crime, regardless of what someone is thinking when they commit it!

    April 29, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  10. Sick of Dirty Obama

    This law will CERTAINLY be struck down as UNCONSTITUTIONAL as violating equal protection.

    April 29, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  11. K in Texas

    I'm not sure, but I think alot of people seem to be missing the point. It seems to me that many crimes over the years have been "glossed over", not prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Perhaps because of the accused, perhaps because of the victim, or a mixture of both. I feel that this law will be intended to address that situation. Any judge can "interpret" the law in the way they see fit. A clearly laid out law would, I hope, lay some of that to rest. There is no such thing as a perfect law. There is no such thing as a perfect group of people. Orientation, sex, race, etc should not be looked at when it's time to prosecute a crime, but it is. It happens every day. Unfortunately, there is no other way to find the right path than to try one out. We can hope it will take us to the right place. We may have to turn around and try a different fork in the road. But trail and error are pretty much the only way to learn.

    April 29, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. Jenn, Philadelphia

    So much for Freedom of Speech and the 1st Amendment. All crime is hateful, why should someone get more prison time for hitting a person in the head with a brick whether it be for being gay or they want your wallet. This isn't equal protection under the law.

    April 29, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  13. Suzie

    I don't hate gays. But is it a sin? yes it is. Will I say so yes. Will I hate or hurt gays – no.

    Pastors have the right to teach what the bible says and this would infringe on that I think.

    April 29, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  14. S.S., MD

    Pastor Sheldon, continue teaching GOD'S TRUTH as HE leads you. For Nan read Romans 1: 26 – 27 & Genesis 19 : 1 – 11. Hopefully this will help you. Everything a person needs to know is in HIS WORD. Kevin, Christians are Christians when we believe, trust, obey, with faith, & forgiveness, without prejudice towards people of many hues.

    April 29, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  15. Surge

    All crimes are not hate crimes. If a CEO swindles investors out of their life savings, did he do it because he hates them? Of course not. That would be an absurd suggestion. A hate crimes bills is just an extension of our use of the court system to send messages to society abut behaviors just like there are different sentencing guidelines for different crimes. And are all the people opposed to this particular bill also opposed to existing bill protecting race? I wonder. I just wish they would take Shepards name off the bill since there is more evidence to suggest that it was not a hate crime than there is to suggest that it was.

    April 29, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  16. Jay

    Thank God this bill is coming. The Dems on the comittee specifically voted to ensure that pedophiles are protected as a minority group due to sexual orientation. I love the liberal mind. Everyone should be treated equally, no matter what they do to an individual, community or the country. Look to California for your liberal utopia. All of the gun control, taxes and illegal immigrants you could want. How's that state doing by the way?

    April 29, 2009 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  17. S.S., MD

    If there's any hate crimes look at what the Jews has gone thru, the American Natives, Afro-Americans, & Irish Americans. These actions are HATE crimes. When someone does a crime, the law should take place. It does not matter the type of crime that has been committed, it's still a crime.

    April 29, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  18. G1N

    Majority,

    –Currently, federal law covers only a person's race, religion, or national origin.

    Since the word "race" is already in hate crimes laws, and white is a type of race, then no, minorities are not the only ones covered here. All races are covered. At the same time, the words "sexual orientation" do not specify what type of sexual orientation. So anyone of any type of sexual orientation is covered, gay, straight, or anywhere in between.

    But that's the problem, people like you just want to blame your problems on whatever minority group is convenient at the time rather than take a look in the mirror to see that your comments are based on ignorance, racism, fear, and hate towards anyone who is different than you.

    I'm sorry you had a bad experience at a bar, but do you really expect all African Americans to welcome you with open arms after this country's history with slavery, segregation, lynchings, and the KKK?

    April 29, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  19. Justin, New York, New York

    So basically, taken to its logical conclusion, the only crimes that aren't theoretically hate crimes are crimes in which the victim is an adult, straight, protestant, white male? Aside from the issue of what violent crime does not involve hate, remember last year in Brooklyn when a court actually spent time trying to figure out whether a gay guy could commit a hate crime against another gay guy. So the penalty should be increased because the victim was gay, not because the assailant was motivated by hatred? Huh? I'm a gay guy (seriously) so that means that anyone who hates me is purely motivated by hatred of gay people? It's also doubly insulting to name a bill after such a vulnerable and tragic victim, but that's another issue.

    April 29, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
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