WASHINGTON - It has been less than a month since President Obama signed the hate crimes bill to extend protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans-- yet more pastors are growing concerned about the new laws.
Religious and legal leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest, Monday, fearing the legislation will restrict what can be preached from the pulpit.
The protestors gathered in front of the Justice Department say Christians' right to speak the Gospel are now threatened like never before.
That is because a hate crimes law meant to protect homosexuals could someday be used to silence sermons and even the reading of scriptures that condemn homosexuality.
Dr. Gary Cass helped organize the protest.
"Those scriptures are already illegal in some countries that have hate crime laws," said Cass. "Canada being the closest. So we know where hate crime legislation leads. As we've said: it's not hate crimes, it's hate Christians. Because it's Christians who are actually on the receiving end of the prosecution of these laws."
Roughly a dozen pastors and heads of religious rights organizations led the protest.
Among them was a British barrister who came all the way from England to warn hate crimes laws there are already being used against Christians.
Paul Diamond says British Christians have been arrested when they are the ones who been violently attacked.
"We have Christians attacked for evangelism and they are arrested for inciting their own attack," said Diamond. "Sometimes the attacks are brought by sick members of the public, sometimes by individual homosexuals."
Backers of the law say it is only supposed to affect those who commit acts of violence against a member of a protected group like homosexuals.
But Dr. Cass says actually the law can be used to prosecute those who in any way incite that violence.
"Somebody could listen to a minister on any given Sunday, and the minister would have to know what's in that person's mind and what that person might do in the future," said Cass. "And if that person went out and committed a hate crime, the minister would be as guilty as the person who actually perpetrates the crime. And that's unprecedented in American history."
And Barrister Diamond warns some in Britain now see preachers as more dangerous than those who commit violent acts against a minority.
"Many people are arguing now in the universities that speech is worse than violence," Diamond added. "That it encourages stereotypical views, it incites discrimination"
Now the protesting pastors say they don't hate homosexuals and they would never commit an act of violence against them. But they say if it becomes a crime to preach the Gospel, that is a crime they are always going to be willing to commit.