Hate Crimes Bill Threatens Free Speech

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WASHINGTON --  A House committee is expected to pass hate crimes legislation Thursday. 

It offers federal protections to homosexuals and many Christians fear it endangers their ability to preach bibically-held beliefs.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Washington Correspondent Jennifer Wishon followed by Gordon Robertson's interview with the American Center for Law and Justice's Jay Sekulow about the free speech problems with the hate crimes bill.

"We the jury find Allen Andrade guilty of first-degree murder," the judge read in court.

In Colorado a guilty verdict for a bias-motivated crime. Andrade was found guilty of killing Angie Zapata after learning the woman he was spending time with was a biological male.

45 States Have Hate Crime Laws

Forty-five states have hate crimes legislation on their books and now Congress is poised to add gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people to the list of federally protected classes.

"It's been more than ten years since I lost my son Matthew to senseless hate violence," Judy Shephard said.

It is often called the Matthew Shephard law, name for a young gay college student beaten to death in 1998. The law would allow prosecutors federal tools when trying cases involving hate crimes. The government could also step in if, for whatever reason, hate crimes are not being prosecuted.

A Chilling Effect on Religious Speech?

Supporters say its necessary to prevent violence against homosexuals, but many Christians fear it will have a chilling affect on religious speech.

"The one or two people that are even just brought up on charges or investigated will have to respond in such a way that it sends a signal to many people," explained Bishop Harry Jacksobn. "I'd rather not talk about this stuff in order to avoid being challenged."

Some lawmakers say those fears are unwarranted, that pastors will still be free to preach their biblically held beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.

But Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, who is a former judge, warns people charged under the law could claim to have been influenced by a preacher's sermon.

Pastors In Other Countries Have Been Prosecuted For Speaking Out

Pastors working in other countries like Canada and England with similar laws have been prosecuted.

"There's no logical stopping point to the amount of intrusion into the First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion or free speech, if this law is passed," said Craig Parshall, chief counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters.

But supporters feel confident the law will be passed this year, with President Obama's blessing.

Opponents are now working feverishly to get lawmakers to amend the legislation, adding protections for religious speech.

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News Washington Correspondent

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