Senators Argue Punishment for Hate Crimes

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Senators who want to add gays, lesbians and transgendered people to those already covered by hate crimes laws have come up with a way to pass the bill, but out of public view.

Analysts say the tactic makes passing the legislation almost foolproof.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is attaching the new hate crimes act as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. 

If approved, voting against the hate crimes bill would also mean voting against giving the military the money it needs to fight the war on terror.

Supporters know the move is a controversial one.

The amendment will not come up for a vote until 1 a.m. -- when no one is awake to watch.

Groups are urging swift action against the hate crimes bill  Click here for more explanation from federal policy analyst Ashley Horne on why the legislation is being called "dangerous" for Christians.

To contact your representative and senator about the hate crimes bill, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office.

Individual senators came to the floor, Thursday, to argue for or against making an attack on a gay person a federal crime.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said of the 7,624 single bias incidents reported in 2007, more than 16 percent resulted from sexual orientation bias.

Those statistics show "that members of the gay and lesbian community are victimized nearly six times more frequently than an average citizen," he said.

Still, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said if the legislation is passed, "opinions will become crimes."

"What's to stop us from following the lead of European countries and American college campuses where certain speech is criminalized?" he asked. "Can priests, pastors, rabbis be sure their preaching will not be prosecuted?"

Lawmakers in support of the bill say religious leaders will be protected. Still, many aren't convinced.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.