Magazine article The Christian Century

Law Signed Extending Hate Crime Protections

Magazine article The Christian Century

Law Signed Extending Hate Crime Protections

Article excerpt

With the stroke of a pen, President Obama expanded federal hate-crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, a goal for which gay-rights activists have been working for more than a decade.

Obama's action on October 28 came after Congress approved the provision over the objections of some conservative religious groups, who viewed it as the first step down a slippery slope toward abridging religious speech against homosexuality.

Supporters of the bill--including many moderate and liberal Christian leaders--say it will make it easier for federal and local authorities to investigate violent crimes motivated by bias against the victim's sexual orientation, racial background, gender and other characteristics.

Since 1968, federal hate-crime laws have provided extra protection for crimes motivated by a victim's religion or ethnic background. The new law expands those categories to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. It also provides additional resources to state and local law-enforcement officials, who investigate and prosecute the vast majority of bias-motivated crimes.

Most states already have hate-crime laws, and several dozen of them include protections for disability, gender and sexual orientation. Laws in a handful of states and the District of Columbia also protect transgendered persons.

Religious right groups opposed to the new federal law said it could ultimately lead to prosecution of traditional Christians for expressing their beliefs about homosexuality.

"This law is a grave threat to the First Amendment because it provides special penalties based on what people think, feel or believe," said Erik Stanley, senior counsel for the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund. Stanley said some Christian ministers in other countries with hate-crime laws have been charged for inciting hatred against gays by preaching. …

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