Expanding Hate Crimes Bill

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ON HATE CRIMES


A few weeks ago, this country took a significant turn, with the passage of HR Bill 1592, or the “Matthew Shepard� bill. 

This measure had been spurred by the brutal violence against victims based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena and Lee Person. 

The bill, which is expected to sail through Congress, has already been threatened by the White House with a veto. The legislation passed, 237-180, shy of the two-thirds votes needed to override a presidential veto. 

Nearly 40 years ago, the hate crimes bill was signed to law protecting American citizens on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. As people of this nation we had not evolved enough scientifically, theologically, or technologically to include in that bill what we now understand with regard to human sexuality. 

The expanded bill includes federal protection based upon one’s gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. Additionally, it grants federal authorities leeway to participate in hate crime investigations. 

The Judiciary Committee cited FBI data which affirmed that since 1991 statistics have been collected on more than 113,000 hate crimes. The break down of which cites that 55% of incidents reported are racially motivated, 17% are of religious prejudice, 14% are sexual orientation bias, and 14% are due to ethnicity intolerance. 

If we are to enact this important bill into law, it will give legal protection to people that need it. However, governmental laws do little to change bitterness within the hearts of the folk who perpetrate hate crimes. 

If you have any doubt, ask any African American if having civil right laws written and passed in our government comforted them when crosses were being burned on their front lawns. Or ask a Jewish citizen if they can rest assured that their churches are finally free in 21st century from defacing and defilement. 

The passage of this bill into law will be the first step, in an often unspoken in public, laborious debate, determining who has worth and value in our great nation. “This is an important vote of conscience, of a statement of what America is, a society that understands that we accept differences,� said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

If the turn that America takes is indeed toward unity or wholeness, then I hope that we look over the global history of hate crimes and learn from it. Also, we might begin moving some of the private debates out from around our proverbial dinner tables into the public arena of our town halls, remembering that there are both joys and costs to living as citizens together in a nation as strong, diverse and free.


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