Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

No-Friends of the Hate-Crimes Bill: The Gay-Friendly Quakers Come out against the Federal Bill

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

No-Friends of the Hate-Crimes Bill: The Gay-Friendly Quakers Come out against the Federal Bill

Article excerpt

The typically pro-gay Religious Society of Friends--the Quaker church--surprised many gay men and lesbians on August 16, when its social justice activism arm, the American Friends Service Committee, took a strong stand against hate-crimes laws, calling them "seriously flawed." AFSC spokeswoman Katherine Whitlock says the group opposes the proposed federal Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act because it would disproportionately affect minorities and the poor by handing too much power to a federal criminal justice system "which we feel mirrors the hate and violence in our society."

"We understand the good intentions of hate-crimes [legislation] proponents," Whitlock says. "But perhaps they don't have as much experience [as we do] with the criminal justice system. There's danger of expanding law enforcement by paying a price in civil rights."

The bill "focuses almost exclusively on criminal justice, not on prevention," she argues, which is "a dangerously simplistic approach to a complex problem. You can't effectively address hate violence without addressing deep-seated social and economic inequality."

The Quakers' action probably won't have much impact in Congress, where support for the hate-crimes bill is stronger than it has ever been. But it left the AFSC open to criticism that it's playing into the hands of the right wing. And it left national gay groups scrambling to put a positive spin on what is, essentially, mutiny by one of their oldest allies. …

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