by Jessica Carreras
BAY CITY – The Michigan-based challenge to the the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was dismissed Sept. 7 after a district court judge decided the lawsuit lacked standing. The statute allows for federal prosecution of violent bias-motivated crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The suit was brought against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in February by Midland resident and American Family Association of Michigan President Gary Glenn, along with three outspoken anti-gay pastors: Levon Yuille, pastor of The Bible Church in Ypsilanti; Rene Ouellette, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bridgeport; and James Combs, pastor of Faith, The Point, The Rock and The River churches. The plaintiffs alleged that the act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, violated their First Amendment right to free speech because, they said, it would allow them to be prosecuted for speaking out against homosexuality to their congregations – something each pastor openly admitted to doing. The plaintiffs were represented by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor.
On April 15, Holder motioned to dismiss the suit. The 43-page report dismissed Glenn’s arguments as hypothetical. “Because plaintiffs do not allege that they intend willfully to engage in any violent conduct that might subject them to prosecution under the act,” Holder wrote, “there is no likelihood that they will be subjected to any federal action or otherwise injured by enforcement of the act.”
Moreover, Holder argued that the plaintiff’s grievance against the law simply because they morally disagree with it was a perfect example of why such laws are judicially enacted.
“(The plaintiffs) complain that the statute is ‘inherently divisive’ and creates ‘a special, protected class of persons under federal law.’ They allege that the act ‘seeks to normalize’ behavior that they believe to be ‘contrary to the moral law and harmful to the common good of society,'” Holder summarized. “These and other grievances contained in plaintiffs’ complaint amply illustrate why the judicial branch imposes prudential standings requirements. If mere disagreement with a federal policy were enough to create a federal case, then the judicial system would be flooded with claims.”
Eastern District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington agreed, writing in his judgment that “(I)t is entirely speculative that plaintiff’s conduct would be prosecuted under the act.”
“We are very pleased with the judge’s ruling upholding the Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade. “This law protects all of our citizens.”
LGBT rights nonprofit Equality Michigan also celebrated the decision, which was the first in the country to challenge the constitutionality of the federal pro-gay equality act.
“Equality Michigan believed from the moment this suit was filed that it would be dismissed,” they released in a statement. “Not only was its legal argument very untenable, it just seemed very insidious to file a complaint so you can act irresponsible if you cause someone to commit violence. With the Federal Hate Crime Act, there is some protection in Michigan and we will push to use it to the full extent of the law to protect the community.”
Equality Michigan collects and reports data on anti-gay hate crimes in Michigan, as well as assists victims in pursuing proper channels for legal action. To learn more, or to report a hate crime, visit http://www.equalitymi.org, or call 313-537-7000.