The Senate has passed a controversial bill that could expand the definition of hate crime.
The bill extends hate-crime protection to include crime committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity, according to The New York Times. A version of the measure has been considered by Congress in Washington DC since 1999.
The bill also allows federal authorities to intervene in cases where local agencies are not pursuing a suspected hate crime.
The hate crime expansion, named after Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man brutally killed in 1998 because he was gay, has drawn criticism from conservative group who worry that it might infringe on religious speech protections.
These critics are afraid that, because hate crime covers hate speech, conservative preachers could be prosecuted for sermons that call homosexuality evil.
Others were critical that the bill was attached to a Pentagon spending bill, and was not allowed proper time for debate.
President Obama is excepted to sign the bill.