According to the Traditional Values Coalition, H.R. 1592 is a bad, bad thing. That's what they said in their latest email, at least. And if there's one thing I know, it's that you can always trust everything you read in emails ... hm?
HR 1592, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007," (it's so much easier just to type HR 1592, by the way), allows the federal government to assist local and state governments prosecuting hate crimes. In defining a hate crime, the language of the bill says, in part, that "Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person--..."
Of course, for the TVC, it is the inclusion of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" that makes this legislation so bad. They claim the bill would make it so that a preacher who speaks out against homosexuality, thereby inciting a congregant to commit a hate crime against a homosexual person would be held criminally accountable by this bill. Or, as they put it, the House of Representatives "slapped Christians in the face" by passing this bill.
(Ranting begins here):
Never mind that the bill itself would prohibit the very thing they describe. It 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." In other words, it is no threat whatsoever to free speech. I wonder how the TVC could have overlooked this?
The answer, of course, is that the TVC and others in their general vicinity on this issue are willfully disregarding facts that do not support their cause. They pretend that this is all about freedom of expression, when in reality it is about the promotion of their own anti-gay agenda, cloaked as it is in the guise of faithful Christianity. Give me a break.
Maybe it's just because I'm in a grumpy mood today (end of a busy, stressful day), but it makes me sick to read about a self-described Christian group whose OFFICIAL POSITION is AGAINST prohibiting "willful bodily injury" to another person, whether they think that person is a sinner or NOT! I mean, shouldn't we Christians kind of be against willful bodily injury to another person, considering all that willful bodily injury inflicted on Jesus for our sakes way back when? Or was that only for straight people? At face value, the position of the TVC seems to be that it is okay to commit willful bodily injury against certain groups of people, or at the very least that it is not an issue they see as problematic. I mean, does someone there actually think through these things? I can't imagine that is really how they want to be perceived.
And with regard to this idea that a preacher's hateful sermon may invoke someone to commit a hate crime and that they would then be held criminally accountable, my first reaction is to try to imagine what kind of sermon it would be that would incite such a response. Heckuva preacher! And then I imagine what might happen if that preacher whose sermons were capable of inciting such action preached a sermon about making disciples of Jesus Christ instead, thereby inciting the congregation to actually spread scriptural holiness throughout the land instead of deciding and naming whom to hate.
I, as a preacher, actually like to think that I may be responsible for some of the things the congregation does upon hearing one of my sermons. "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24) seems to be a pretty fitting motivation for a sermon, don't you think? What are preachers doing if not trying to inspire, provoke, motivate, and invite a spirit-filled, Christ-centered response? Seems to me that some accountability in the process may be a good thing. The worst thing I'll ever inspire from my sermons is lethargy, to be sure, not a hurtful criminal action. And yet I ought to held accountable even when my preaching inspires nothing more than lethargy, rather than love.
Some more level-headed opponents leave the whole nutty-Christian-extreme-right-thing aside and argue that the bill is not necessary, on the grounds that hate crimes are already being prosecuted at the local level. This is what the current occupant is citing to support his intention to veto the bill when it arrives on his desk. Okay, that's a different argument. However, reading the entire bill, I don't find it redundant at all. In fact, the bill authorizes federal asssistance for local prosecution of hate crimes only if
"`(A) the State does not have jurisdiction or does not intend to exercise jurisdiction;
`(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;
`(C) the State does not object to the Federal Government assuming jurisdiction; or
`(D) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence."
But my primary rant tonight (I know it's not as ranty as my brother can get at times, but I'm aspiring) has had to do with how a Christian group can twist the faith enough to find the ethical framework from which to actually argue against passing an anti-hate-crime bill. Christians have not been "slapped in the face" with this bill, but all Christians suffer when one nutty group of us makes a claim like that.
Seriously though, maybe someone can explain for me why a Christian would be against HR 1592 in a way that I can make some sense of. I would welcome that dialogue.