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May 2, 2009

Hate Crimes & Hoaxes

Everyone's talking about hate crimes right now thanks to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913), also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, which passed the House this week in a bipartisan 249-175 vote. Unfortunately, some of the people who are talking about this issue are letting their ignorance and bigotry show, like Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and our old friends at the American Family Association. Rep. Foxx stood on the floor of the House and complained that naming the bill for Matthew Shepard was a "hoax" because Shepard was killed in a robbery and not because he was gay. (If you agree with us that she can suck it, you can follow the FireFoxx movement on facebook and twitter.) And the AFA has been busy trying to claim that H.R. 1913 will take away our freedom of speech and legalize incest or pedophilia, which is the real hoax in all of this.

Yeah, okay, so they've lost their fucking minds! What else is new, right? It makes us wonder if the AFA actually believes the shit they're selling...They have to be either really stupid (or more likely they just think their followers are dumb enough to believe whatever they say) or just huge liars, because their claims are just so incredibly easy to disprove. So let's disprove them, shall we?

First things first... let's take a look at the actual proposed bill, H.R. 1913:
Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009
To provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes.

Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 - Authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime that:
(1) constitutes a crime of vi
olence under federal law or a felony under state, local, or Indian tribal law; and
(2) is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws. Directs the Attorney General to give priority for assistance to crimes committed by offenders who have committed crimes in more than one state and to rural jurisdictions that have difficulty covering the extraordinary investigation or prosecution expenses. Authorizes the Attorney General to award grants to assist state, local, and Indian law enforcement agencies with such extraordinary expenses. Directs the Office of Justice Programs to:
(1) work closely with funded jurisdictions to ensure that the concerns and needs of all affected parties are addressed; and
(2) award grants to state and local programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles. Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit willfully causing bodily injury to any person because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of such person. Amends the Hate Crimes Statistics Act to expand data collection and reporting requirements under such Act to include:
(1) crimes manifesting prejudice based on gender and gender identity; and
(2) hate crimes committed by and against juveniles.
Declares that nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the exercise of constitutionally-protected free speech. [
Open Congress]

Obviously you can see how horribly offensive and scary this bill is to the AFA. Making it easier to prosecute violent hate crimes while respecting free speech rights? It's just disgraceful.

Now let's address their ridiculous lies one by one...

Claim #1: H.R. 1913 Will Take Away Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion

America's most basic freedoms of speech, conscience and the free exercise of religion are under attack and the time to act is now. If President Obama succeeds with his priority of passing the Hate Crimes law, H.R. 1913 - the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, it could lead to the criminalization of the Biblical view of homosexuality in sermons and elsewhere. An offended homosexual could accuse a pastor, Sunday School teacher of broadcaster of causing emotional injury simply by expressing the Biblical view that homosexuality is sinful.

H.R. 1913 is one more step in the campaign to legitimize homosexuality in our culture by treating it as a protected class along with race, gender, and religion. The long term goal is to create one more platform from which to eradicate wrong thinking about homosexuality. H.R. 1913 will undoubtedly pave the way to legislation that will make thinking Biblically about homosexuality a "hate crime."

We believe prosecutors and anti-Christian groups will use loop holes in the proposed legislation to muzzle the church from speaking out on Biblical standards of morality which are shared by most Americans. Unnecessary lawsuits will bring a chilling effect to the free speech and religious liberty of our churches and of our members. [AFA]

Oh there's just so much wrong with that. Firstly, if you go back and re-read the bill summary, you'll notice that the first criteria be that the crime "constitutes a crime of violence". It doesn't say anything about restricting speech or religious beliefs. Secondly, it actually specifically addresses that concern: "nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the exercise of constitutionally-protected free speech." This law doesn't apply to people who are "speaking out" or "expressing a view", unless maybe the view that you're expressing is something like 'gay people are evil, if you see one you should beat them up'.

This is an issue that has also been addressed by the Supreme Court in the past:
The Act punishes only violent actions – not thoughts or beliefs -- based on prejudice. Doubts about the constitutionality of bias motivated crime laws were squarely addressed by the Supreme Court in the early 1990’s in two cases, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul and Wisconsin v. Mitchell. These cases clearly demonstrate that a criminal statute may consider bias motivation when that motivation is directly connected to a defendant’s criminal conduct. By requiring this connection to criminal activity, these statutes do not chill protected speech and do not violate the First Amendment. In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, the Supreme Court made clear that “the First Amendment . . . does not prohibit the evidentiary use of speech to establish the elements of a crime or to prove motive or intent.” Nothing in this act would prohibit the lawful expression of one’s deeply held religious beliefs. People will always be free to say things like: “Homosexuality is sinful”; “Homosexuality is an abomination”; or “Homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” The Act would only cover violent actions committed because of a person’s sexual orientation that result in death or bodily injury. [HRC]

Claim #2: H.R. 1913 Will Legalize Criminal Sexual Behaviors
The Hate Crime law, HR-1913, will make 30 sexual orientations federally-protected. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has published 30 such sexual orientations that, because of Congress's refusal to define "sexual orientation," will be protected under this legislation. These 30 orientations are listed in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which is used by physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and psychiatrists throughout the U.S. It is considered the dictionary of mental disorders. Those 30 sexual orientations include behaviors that are felonies or misdemeanors in most states. [AFA]

The "sexual orientations" that the AFA highlights include incest and pedophilia, so yeah, that sounds pretty messed up! And maybe it would be... if either parts of that claim were true. But they're not. The term "sexual orientation" is already defined and it does not include any of the paraphilias recognized by the APA. Firstly, the term "sexual orientation" is widely accepted as being about gender and nothing more.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, sexual orientation is defined as:
the direction of one's sexual interested toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes [The Free Dictionary]
Here's what the American Psychological Association has to say about it:
Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.
Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one’s own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women). [APA]
As for the other part of their argument.... that "sexual orientation" can include incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, or other illegal activities? Also false. Despite their claim that the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists "sexual orientations", they do not use that term in that way. They list paraphilias/sexual disorders, and sexual dysfunctions.

Just in case you're still not convinced, a similar argument was easily shot down in Canada, over a decade ago:
In McAleer v Canada (1996 132 DLR 4th 672), it was suggested that the term sexual orientation was too vague as it could be construed to include "paedophilia, incest, date rape (and) bestiality" but the Court disagreed saying that "sexual orientation ... is a precise legal concept as it deals specifically with an individual's preference in terms of gender". [Duhaime.org]

Claim #3: H.R. 1913 Is Unnecessary.
Laws already exist in all 50 states to punish violent crime, making this legislation unnecessary, unfair, indefinable, un-American and constitutionally suspect. [AFA]
A big part of the bill is about providing funding to combat hate crimes, so it doesn't matter how many laws already exist. Also, you could make the same argument about the Defense of Marriage Act. There were laws in almost all states against same-sex marriage, but yet they still felt compelled to make it federal. Luckily this is a federal law I can actually support.

You could make an argument against hate crime laws by saying that all crimes/crime victims should be treated equally and that, for example, assault is assault so a "hate" motive shouldn't matter. (I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but I think it's a real argument.) But why bother trying to oppose the bill in a way that actually engages with what the bill really says and does, when it's so much easier to just whip up false fear about the evil liberals promoting incest and attacking religion and free speech?

Of course, one of the strong arguments in favor of hate crimes legislation is that when violent crimes are committed against people because of who they are and the communities that they belong to, those crimes are meant not just to attack the individual victims but also to threaten and intimidate the entire community. When you view it that way, a bill that allows the Justice Department to assist in investigations of hate crimes and provides for federal grants that could help local law enforcement provide more training and better investigate such crimes makes a lot of sense.

So, let's do a quick review:

This bill DOES add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to existing federal hate crimes laws that already cover things like race, religion, and national origin.

This bill DOES NOT violate the Constitution or take away anyone's right to free speech or to practice their religion.

This bill DOES give the Justice Department the ability to assist in investigations of crimes that terrorize entire communities of people.

This bill DOES NOT legalize, protect, or promote incest or pedophilia in any way.

So, what's next? As we said at the beginning, this bill has passed in the House. The companion bill was reintroduced in the Senate by a bipartisan coalition last week, and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation has President Obama's support, so we all need to contact our Senators and ask them to support this bill (S. 909) so that it can get to the president's desk as soon as possible. We also have to keep speaking out against damaging and destructive right-wing lies about hate crimes.


tehfanglyfish said...

I just want to say that all of NC isn't like Virginia Foxx. We're not all a bunch of close-minded, insensitive bigots, I swear!

Bill said...

Amazing article! This is the best kind of journalism (the actually researched, sourced, and verified kind) and I wish we were seeing more of it in the mainstream media. Please keep it coming!

Grey Hair Is Beauty, Inc said...

You mentioned "sexual orientation" is a socially acceptable term, how does Congress defice it?

Anonymous said...

Well, we said it was "widely accepted" not "socially acceptable" which is different. It's a widely accepted term - not just in a social context - regardless of whether Congress has explicitly defined it for these purposes.

It probably wouldn't hurt if Congress did specifically define it (if they haven't already, not sure) but I don't see how it's really necessary seeing as there has never been more than one definition and that definition is a universal one.

The usage the AFA is claiming is inaccurate and does not actually appear in the DSM-VI.