Hate Crimes Bill a Threat to Free Speech?

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WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday morning, the House judiciary committee is expected to pass hate crimes legislation.

It is a law that allows the federal government to step in when crimes are committed as a result of a person's sexual orientation or religion. The measure is expected to sail through Congress, but some say it threatens Christian free speech.

Click play for more with Bishop Harry Jackson, following Jennifer Wishon's report.

Congress approved the same legislation years ago, but it never got past President George Bush. This time around is different. As a U.S. senator, President Obama co-sponsored hate crimes legislation and is expected to sign it into law.

Measure Allows Federal Intervention

The bill is known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It frees up federal resources for states and localities prosecuting hate crimes. It also allows federal prosecutors to step if state and local governments do not prosecute.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank D-Mass. who is an openly gay, chairs the judiciary committee.

"The absence of protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is particularly egregious," Frank said. "This bill remedies that gap in a responsible way, fully respectful of constitutional rights and I look forward to it being passed and signed by a president, who is committed to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

However, opponents argue it isn't necessary.

"The statistics in so-called hate crime categories, such as homosexuality or religious belief as the reason for hate crime, has not escalated," explained Craig Parshall, chief counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters. "It's been pretty stable over the past decade and it comprises only a small percentage of a small percentage of all crime occuring in the United States."

Judy Shepard disagrees with Parshall's figures. Her son Matthew was murdered more than a decade ago, because he was gay.

Working with the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual advocacy group, Shephard released a video to garner support for the bill. But those working to defeat it fear it will only prosecute and jail pastors, Christian communicators and all Americans who preach their bibically held beliefs against homosexuality.

Christians Prosecuted For Hate Crimes For What They Said

Parshall warns Americans who don't believe it, need only look at other countries with similar laws.

"We have Christian communicators in Canada, Sweden, Australia, the United Kingdom all prosecuted for hate crimes, because not what they did, because of any act of violence, but of what they said," he told CBN News. "The church needs to wake up and understand that the risk is right here on our doorstep."

Lawyers and lobbyists are working feverishly to get the law amended to protect church pastors.

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News Washington Correspondent

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