WASHINGTON - Hate crimes legislation appears to be on the move in the Senate.
The White House sent America's top lawyer to argue for expanding protections to homosexuals, bisexuals and trans-gendered victims. Still, critics --including many pastors-- fear the proposed law is unnecessary, unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of speech.
To contact your representative and senator, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators' and/or representative's office. Or Find your representative's contact information, on the links below. Let your voice be heard.
Attorney General Eric Holder, referring to this month's hate-inspired killing at the Holocaust museum, made his pitch for updating hate crimes laws to include what he calls society's most vulnerable. He told lawmakers that elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to federally-protected classes is a top priority for the Obama administration.
"Perpetrators of hate crimes seek to deny the humanity we all share regardless of the color of sin, the god to whom we pray or the person we choose to love," he said.
The Liberty Counsel has started an online petition against the hate crimes legislation on Capitol Hill. CBN News spoke with Matt Barber, an attorney with the group. Click play for his comments.
Supporters of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act say it's needed. They point to statistics showing the number of reported hate crimes based on orientation has increased to the highest level in five years. Of all the hate crimes committed in 2007, the proportion against gays, bisexuals and trans-gendered people rose to more than 16 percent.
While there is overwhelming support for the legislation, there's also strong opposition against it and there are a number of reasons why.
Critics question whether the hate crimes act, which originally passed in the wake of the civil rights movement, is really needed. Another concern is whether a person can be charged twice for the same crime. There's also the question that goes to the heart of freedom of speech. Can religious leaders preach against homosexuality without the fear of potentially being prosecuted?
Despite clear biblical teaching on homosexuality, the issue has some Christians split.
"If I thought for one minute that this bill would limit anyone's religious faith expression or observance, I would not touch it with a 10 foot poll, but that is not what the bill does," said Mark Achtemeier of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. "Section 10 explicitly reaffirms that our religious freedoms are fully protected under the constitution."
The House passed its version of hate crimes legislation in April, and with President Obama eager to sign it into law, the leader of the Senate says he's committed to passing this legislation before senators goes on recess in August.
*Originally published June 25, 2009