Hate-Crime Laws and Loving the Sinner

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One of the benefits of a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress is that we can expect action on good, progressive legislation. One such bill is H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which was recently approved by the House Judiciary Committee. As noted by Americans United, this bill

would allow the U.S. Justice Department to offer assistance when a crime that results in death or serious injury is committed against any American because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The federal government could even prosecute such cases if local officials were unwilling to do so.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the bill “has been endorsed by more than 275 national civil rights, professional, civic, education, and religious groups, 26 state attorneys general, and a number of the most important national law enforcement organizations… [and] has repeatedly attracted majority, bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.”

But there is one group opposing the bill, and you’ll never guess who:

Let’s say you preach from Genesis 19 or Romans 1, referencing the homosexual agenda or lifestyle. Your sermon could be heard by an individual who applies it in a way prohibited by a hate crimes law. Not only would the offender be prosecuted under this law, but you could also be prosecuted for conspiracy. Consequently, hate crimes laws would radically impact our freedom of speech as Christians.

Despite its wide bipartisan support, religious right groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Traditional Values Coalition are up in arms, hysterically warning that any bill which punishes hate crimes against gays and lesbians will be used to “silence Christian opposition to homosexuality”. This is a lie, as you can verify for yourself by reading the text of the bill, which says:

Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.

As the language of the bill makes clear, it applies only to crimes of violence that are motivated by bias or hate. But religious right groups, as always, have no compunction in lying to their followers about the contents of this law.

The question is, given the demonstrable falsehood of their stated premises, what’s the real reason why religious right groups are so adamantly opposed to hate crime laws? If it’s true, as they say, that they “hate the sin and love the sinner”, one would think that they would support laws that give LGBT people more legal protection against crimes of bias.

The obvious answer is that they truly do hate homosexuals and want to preserve their right to discriminate against them. There’s too much evidence to dismiss this explanation out of hand: consider the cases, both famously cited in the “Gathering Storm” ad, in which a Christian doctor refused to perform artificial insemination on a lesbian patient and a church group refused to rent a pavilion, otherwise open to the public, for a same-sex commitment ceremony. (Both lost in court.)

The other explanation, which I suspect plays a greater role in their own minds, is that most right-wing Christians believe in a coming one-world government ruled by the Antichrist. Any political development that goes against their wishes, they assume to be part of this Satanic conspiracy against them. This explains the shrillness of their rhetoric: they’re positive that a day is soon coming when Christianity will be outlawed, and they see it coming around every corner. In the face of their faith, the actual facts of the matter – such as the fact that this legislation only criminalizes violence, not speech – are irrelevant to their minds.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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