A proposed expansion of hate-crime laws currently up for debate on Capitol Hill is drawing fire from an unlikely source ‒ Christian conservatives.
Hate crime laws add extra penalties to crimes that target and aim to intimidate victims based on race, color, religion or national origin. A bill in Congress, the Matthew Shepard Act, could expand hate crime protection to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
According to USA Today, conservative leaders oppose the Shepard Act, named after the Wyoming man murdered in 1998, as unconstitutional.
“The entire notion of hate-crimes legislation is extraneous and obsolete,” said Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with the conservative nonprofit Liberty Counsel, suggesting all hate crime laws be repealed.
Other Christian groups have expressed concern that adding gays and lesbians as a protected class would infringe on their ability to preach that homosexuality is a sin.
Many religious groups publicly support the Matthew Shepard Act, even if they preach homosexuality as sinful. A 2007 Gallup poll showed a majority of Americans (68%), including frequent churchgoers (62%), conservatives (57%), and Republicans (60%), were in favor of legislation expanding hate-crimes protections.
Current hate crime laws have been in place since the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Hate crime can be prosecuted on a federal level, and often lead to longer prison sentences, more public awareness and public outcry, and more difficult criminal defense.