Progress on hate crimes
President Obama is preparing to sign legislation passed yesterday by the Senate that would make assaulting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity a federal offense in the same vein of existing hate crimes legislation regarding racial and religious violence.
Recent political coverage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – named for Matthew Shepard, a gay teen who was lynched in Wyoming in October 2008, and James Byrd, a black man who was lynched in Texas in June of the same year – has emphasized fervent (and misleading) objections of right-wing religious groups to the legislation. The Family Research Council has suggested, for instance, that “[w]hat ‘hate crimes’ legislation does is lay the legal foundation and framework for investigating, prosecuting and persecuting pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions reflect their faith.” (Again, it’s important to note that these attacks are false.)
But beyond the Religious Right, faith leaders have long championed the expansion of federal hate crimes penalties to include violence against gay and transgendered Americans. In renewed debate over the Matthew Shepard Act, FPL and diverse leaders in the faith community have sought to refute the dishonest rhetoric of religious right leaders.
Thanks in part to misinformation from the likes FRC and Focus on the Family, Congress rejected the late Sen. Kennedy’s repeated introductions of the Matthew Shepard Act from 2007 to the end of the Bush administration. But today welcomes justice, however delayed, to the victims of anti-gay violence, and to those who dare commit their hands to hatred.