Stoking Fire: Far Right Opposition to Hate Crimes Laws

Eleanor J. Bader

Assurances that federal workplace anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people will exempt religious bodies from oversight should mollify conservatives, but they don't.

For most of us, there’s nothing ambiguous about Leviticus
19:18: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against, the children of thy
people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

Not so the Christian Right. For them, these words are
apparently equivocal, at least when it comes to the lesbian, gay, bisexual or
transgender community. Aided by such anti-abortion organizations as
Missionaries to the Preborn and Operation Save America, a coalition of
"pro-family" groups – including Focus on the Family, The Traditional Values
Coalition, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council – are
organizing to stop Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination
Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention
Act, more commonly called the Hate Crimes bill.

ENDA starts with the assumption that employment
discrimination against LGBTQ workers is harmful, violates standards of equality
and fairness, and should be illegal. Its supporters – dozens of large corporations
and groups including the ACLU, The Human Rights Campaign, NOW, The National
Council of Churches, and The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights -believe that
curtailing anti-queer discrimination requires adding sexual preference and
gender identity to race, religion, color, sex and national origin, categories
protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

A 2007 report by the ACLU attests to the need. According to Working in the
Shadows
, 38 states presently allow employers to fire or refuse to hire
someone based on gender identity, meaning that someone who is transitioning
from male-to-female or female-to-male can be let go for reasons having nothing
to do with competence, skill, or performance. On top of this, 30 states allow
employers to fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her actual or
perceived sexual orientation. As if this weren’t enough, a 2007 survey
conducted by careerbuilders.com and Kelly Services found that 78 percent of
LGBTQ workers interviewed had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment on
the job, from verbal taunts to physical assaults. 

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As written, ENDA applies to businesses with 15 or more
employees but excludes both the military and religious organizations. Brian
Moulton, Senior Counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, was involved in drafting
ENDA. He favors using other legislative channels to repeal the military’s
current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and explains that most civil rights laws
exempt religious bodies from compliance. "Religious groups have a First
Amendment right to determine that folks who perform particular functions can
make decisions based on their religious beliefs. We want to respect this," he
says.

You’d think this would mollify conservatives, but it
doesn’t. Concerned Women for America, for one, predicts that ENDA will "open
businesses to harassment by homosexual activist lawyers" and lambastes the bill
as "a gay power grab that will severely curb Constitutionally guaranteed
inalienable rights that Americans hold dear, including the freedoms of speech,
religion and association."

Focus on the Family goes even further, lamenting the
"silencing" of those who "hold Biblically orthodox views on homosexual or
transgender behavior."

These objections, however, are tame when compared to the
vitriol spewed against the Hate Crimes bill. Named for Matthew Shepard, a
21-year-old Wyoming student who was beaten to death by homophobes in 1998, the
legislation will expand 1969’s federal hate crime provisions to include "bias
motivated crimes based on the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation,
gender, gender identity, or disability." It will also allow the feds to
prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes when local law enforcement doesn’t.

Advocates utilize FBI statistics to bolster their case.
Although the Bureau does not yet keep statistics on bias attacks against
transsexuals, 1265 hate crimes linked to sexual orientation were logged in
2007, including 29 murders.

For progressives, the fact that people are targeted because
of who they are makes the need for the Hate Crimes bill obvious. Not
surprisingly, the Right disagrees. 

Operation Save America rants that the bill will "criminalize
the Bible and give pedophiles protected status."

The Family Research Council blasts that it will give
"homosexuals and cross-dressers more protection against violence than children
or the elderly," while Focus on the Family invokes the specter of Big Brother’s
muzzle, railing that "pastors who preach against homosexuality could end up
prosecuted if they are found to have induced a hate crime against a
self-identified homosexual by preaching from the Bible." 

Not to be outdone, the website of The Traditional Values
Coalition carps that the bill will "make at least 30 sexual orientations into
federally protected minority groups." Those orientations? Among them are
coprophilia, sexual arousal from feces, and apotemnophilia, arousal from the
stumps of an amputee.

Really.

It’s hard to respond to such absurdities but advocates have
tried. They point out that the Hate Crimes Bill, like ENDA, specifies that
religious objections to homosexuality are classified as neither hate crimes nor
hate speech. Furthermore, they reiterate that neither bill does anything to
curtail verbal dissent or protect pedophiles. What’s more, they argue that the
Act blocks information about speech or association from courtrooms unless "it
is specifically related to the commission of a crime."

President Obama has indicated his support for ENDA, but
Congress has yet to vote on it in this session

Meanwhile, the House and Senate recently passed Hate Crimes
legislation, but don’t uncork the champagne just yet. A conference to iron out
disparities between the House and Senate versions is needed and compromise may
be difficult thanks to a pro-death penalty rider appended by ultraconservative
Jefferson Sessions III (R-AL) to the Senate version. Sessions’ action puts
progressives in a bind. Should we support legislation that includes capital
punishment or oppose it unless the provision is deleted? 

Debate continues. Both ENDA and the Hate Crimes bill are
likely to move forward in September.

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