Clinton: Crimes vs. Gays Akin to Ethnic Cleansing: Announces Tolerance Program for Schools

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President Clinton yesterday called for stronger federal laws against so-called "hate crimes," comparing violence against homosexuals and other minorities to "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo.

The president also announced that the departments of Education and Justice would help develop a national middle-school program called "Dealing With our Differences."

Public school students as young as 11 would "learn about the harmful impact of intolerance," he said.

Mr. Clinton also ordered the Department of Education to collect data on hate crimes on college campuses.

"When someone dies in a horrible incident in America, or when we see slaughter or ethnic cleansing abroad, we should remember that we defeat these things by teaching and by practicing a different way of life, and by reacting vigorously when they occur within our own midst," Mr. Clinton said at a White House ceremony.

Some conservative groups reacted to the proposed legislation with outrage, saying the middle-school curriculum was a thinly veiled attempt to promote homosexuality to young children.

"President Clinton's plan to invade America's middle schools and colleges with the homosexual agenda under the guise of `teaching tolerance' shows what `hate crimes' laws are all about," said Robert H. Knight, senior director of Cultural Studies for the Family Research Council.

Andrea Sheldon, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said, "Bill Clinton has declared war on Christian parents and children. He is using all the power at his disposal to undermine the religious beliefs of parents. . . . He must believe that Christians are the purveyors of hate."

Federal hate crimes are defined as efforts to intimidate or injure people based on their race, ethnic origin or religion. The bill backed by Mr. Clinton would add disability, gender, and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes.

Homosexual-rights groups hailed the president's support, saying it will help build momentum for the legislation in this Congress. Mr. Clinton previously supported the bill, but yesterday's White House event was his strongest public endorsement yet.

Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual-rights group, argued that there is nothing in either the legislation or the middle-school program that imposes on Christian beliefs.

"I don't think one's religious beliefs preclude one from believing that gays and lesbians should not be beaten up . . . that is not a Christian value to beat someone up because we don't agree with them."

Details of the voluntary program have yet to be worked out, according to the White House. The Justice Department, however, has already developed a model program for schools calling for "hate-prevention training" for staff and students and a "hate-prevention policy" by school systems.

Mr. Clinton said the proposed hate-crimes legislation, which failed in Congress last year and will be the subject of new Senate hearings this month, will "send a message to ourselves and to the world that we are going into the 21st century determined to preach and to practice what is right. …