Federal Hate Crime Law Withstands Legal Challenge
August 3, 2012 by Ty Cobb, Director, HRC Global
Once again, the sky is falling for opponents of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as they learned their irrational fears are unfounded. Yesterday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals released an opinion that found three Michigan pastors without sufficient standing to challenge the constitutionality of the federal hate crime law. The opinion dismissed the plaintiff’s challenge as “a political statement.”
Simply put, the three plaintiffs believe that being gay is “forbidden by God” and that it is their duty to “publicly denounce homosexuality, homosexual activism, and the homosexual agenda as being contrary to God’s law.” They filed the lawsuit because they were concerned that the federal hate crime law prohibits them from espousing their form of hate.
According to the court, they are wrong. The opinion states:
So why are Plaintiffs here? If the Hate Crimes Act prohibits only willfully causing bodily injury and Plaintiffs are not planning to willfully injure anybody, then what is their complaint? Plaintiffs answer that they fear wrongful prosecution and conviction under the Act. Not only is that fear misplaced, it’s inadequate to generate a case or controversy the federal courts can hear.
Therefore, until the plaintiffs decide it is also their moral duty to violently attack individuals because they are gay, they are free to morally condemn whomever they wish. The federal hate crime law does not inhibit free speech.
The Supreme Court ruled in the early 1990s that hate crime laws are constitutional. In R.A.V. v City of St. Paul and Wisconsin v. Mitchell, the Court concluded that evidentiary use of speech to prove motive or intent does not offend the First Amendment.
The suit was filed in February 2010 by the conservative Thomas More Law Center, an organization that has previously challenged state health care benefits for same-sex couples and municipal anti-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people.
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