On Thursday, the Senate approved a sweeping hate crimes bill containing new federal penalties for assaults against gays and lesbians. Prominent gay rights activists have hailed the bill as "Our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." But conservatives believe the bill threatens freedom of speech—particularly for religious leaders whose faith drives them to speak out against homosexuality. They have also spurred debate by attacking the bill for allegedly prosecuting 'thought crime.'
On Free Speech
- Not a Threat, says Charles Haynes at North County Gazette: "Americans have, after all, lived under hate-crimes laws, federal and state, for decades – and some of the state laws already include sexual orientation. In all that time, religious leaders of various stripes have preached controversial beliefs about race, religion and national origin without ever being charged with a hate crime based on the content of their speech. Thanks to the First Amendment, we enjoy the strongest protection for free expression in the world. In a society where even white supremacists, anti-Semites and anti-gay hatemongers like the Rev. Fred Phelps are free to speak, local pastors need not worry about being prosecuted for preaching the Gospel as they understand it."
- Very Troubling, says Ken Klukowski at Fox News: "Religious Americans and conservatives should derive little comfort from these vacuous assurances. Liberal judges have transformed 'speech' into anything involving 'expressive conduct.' The Court reasoned that since the targeting of a specific individual is not speaking, it is not protected by the First Amendment...It’s bad public policy to try to take specific views or beliefs and make them part of a crime."