Anti-LGBT Leaders File Junk Suit Against Hate Crimes Law
February 3, 2010
Three pastors and the president of the American Family Association of Michigan filed a meritless lawsuit yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). The constitutional challenge claims that the HCPA chills the exercise of fundamental rights of those who “publicly oppose homosexual activism, the homosexual lifestyle, and the homosexual agenda.” It alleges that the HCPA creates “thought crimes” and “is an effort to eradicate religious beliefs opposing the homosexual agenda.” Based on this rhetoric, and the meritless legal arguments contained in the claim, the plaintiffs clearly intend to use this lawsuit to spread an inaccurate and uninformed message of intolerance. Counter to the plaintiffs’ claim, the HCPA prohibits bias motivated violence – not speech. In fact, the act states “nothing in this division shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief).” Further, doubts raised by the plaintiff about the constitutionality of bias-motivated criminal laws were squarely addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1990’s in two cases, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul and Wisconsin v. Mitchell. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the HCPA violates their fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion, as well as their equal protection guarantee under the Fifth Amendment. HRC will continue to monitor this case. Thanks to HRC Law Fellow Kate Oakley for her contributions to this post.