Faith Leaders Speak Out In Support of Senate Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation

by HRC Staff

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, July 11, 2007


More Than 1,300 Sign Letter Urging Senate to Pass the Matthew Shepard Act New Print Ad Highlights Black Clergy Support

WASHINGTON - Today, the Human Rights Campaign released a list of more than 1,300 faith leaders who have signed on to a letter urging the U.S. Senate to passage the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105) that would update the current hate crimes law. Additionally, a new full-page print ad appears in today's edition of Roll Call that highlights the broad support of black clergy and civil rights leaders voicing support for hate crimes legislation. The new ad is sponsored by a coalition that includes the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the National Black Justice Coalition.

Today's clergy letter was released by the Human Rights Campaign, along with a coalition of organizations that include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Action Center. The 1,385 faith leaders signing the letter represent a broad spectrum of religious voices urging passage of a hate crimes bill that is expected for a Senate vote in the near future.

The letter states, "We would not support a bill that did not contain ample protections for free speech, including preaching and statements of religious belief. This law does not criminalize or impede upon religious expression in any way." Read the complete letter at

In addition to the letter, the Human Rights Campaign, along with the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and the National Black Justice Coalition, has also published a full page ad in today's edition of Roll Call. The ad features a theologically diverse group of black clergy representing tens of thousands of Americans speaking out in support of proposed hate crimes legislation.

The ad states,"As leaders in the black clergy community, we want to voice our strong support for the Matthew Shepard Act. Our faith tells us that an act of hate upon one member of our community - whether because of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability - is an attack on all of us." To view the ad, please go to:

The Matthew Shepard Act would update the current hate crimes statute, enacted in 1964, to include more Americans and provide increased protections for those groups already covered under existing law. Nothing in this legislation prohibits the lawful expression of one's deeply held religious beliefs. Neither the current hate crimes law nor the expanded measures criminalize thoughts or speech they only criminalize violent acts.

During the House Judiciary Committee's consideration of the bill, committee members explicitly noted that nothing in this legislation would prohibit the lawful expression of one's deeply held religious beliefs. To further ensure that there was no ambiguity on this point, an additional amendment offered by Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., was adopted at markup. The amendment unequivocally stated that conduct protected under the First Amendment's free expression and free exercise clauses was not subject to prosecution.

On Thursday, May 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592), by a strong bipartisan margin of 237 to 180 - with more than 20 Republicans voting in support. The identical Senate legislation is expected to be voted on shortly.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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