Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON, DC –
Hate crimes legislation bearing the name of Matthew Shepard is likely to come to a vote later this week in the U.S. Senate. The difficulty of getting a separate piece of legislation on the Senate calendar has prompted supporters to use a strategy of passing the bill as an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill.
Wade Henderson called the bill “one of the most important civil rights issues currently facing the country,” in a telephone conference call with reporters on July 10. He is president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of nearly 200 religious and civil liberties groups “dedicated to building an America as good as its ideals.”
He said the measure would expand coverage of federal hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability, adding them to racial, ethnic, and religious categories already protected under the law. It would allow federal assistance to local law enforcement authorities and federal intervention in situations of violence when local authorities did not adequately perform their job.
Citing scare tactics by some social conservatives, Henderson said, “It is important to say explicitly that the bill will not trample the First Amendment; it will not criminalize speech; it will not infringe upon religious liberty.”
“The bill is about simple justice. Passing it sends a signal to the entire country that no one… should be the victim of hate crime violence.”
Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington, DC bureau of the NAACP, said the 1998 murder of James Byrd, where he was chained to and dragged behind a car in a small town in Texas, “would not have been considered a hate crime” unless the Attorney General “was willing to stretch existing hate crimes policies.”
Bishop Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, scene of the nation’s worst race riot in 1921, said he has been worried and bothered by some African American pastors’ vocal opposition to the legislation. He said they did not represent most of the African American community.
“Right wing [white] fundamentalists are coordinating and motivating them to be vocal,” he charged. “Their motivation is often either fear, or money, or both. It is not the love of God or people.”
“The people behind [these African American preachers] are people who are not black, who are fundamentalists and religious zealots. They have an agenda that also pushes things like the Iraq war. It has been the white evangelical church that has supported the administration’s push toward war,” Pearson said. “That is why I am becoming more outspoken.”
The Leadership Conference has taken the lead on passing all civil rights legislation over the last half century. Henderson said it would be difficult to get the bill on the Senate’s legislative calendar this year, and so they have decided on the strategy of attaching it as an amendment to the Defense Department spending bill.
He is optimistic that the chief sponsor of the appropriations measure, Jack Reid (D-Rhode Island) will agree to the adding the amendment.
Henderson believes the measure has widespread support. He said, “I’m confident we have the 60 votes that we need” to defeat a possible filibuster by opponents. “The real issue is whether there will be efforts to find other creative ways of slowing down or delaying consideration of the bill.”
The House of Representatives passed a bill with the exact same language on May 3.