Pastor Commends House Majority Whip for Letter in Support of Hate Crimes Legislation
House Majority Whip James Clyburn Condemns Anti-Gay Newspaper Ads as "grossly inaccurate" and "highly prejudicial"
WASHINGTON- Today Bishop Carlton Pearson, HRC Religion Council member and senior minister of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, OK, commended House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) for issuing a letter that counters the false claims by a group of conservative African-American ministers that the federal hate crimes legislation threatens free speech. Majority Whip Clyburn sent the letter to Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham, MD and members of the High Impact Leadership Coalition in response to a full-page the group ran against the Senate version of the hate crimes bill in the July 11 edition of USAToday.
"I commend Majority Leader Clyburn for pointing out that discrimination against any of our fellow Americans is wrong and for clarifying, once again, that nothing in the hate crimes legislation will place ministers at risk for preaching their faith," said Bishop Pearson. "This legislation simply ensures that all people are covered by federal protections to investigate and prosecute hate violence."
The same day the anti-hate crimes ad ran in USA Today, the Human Rights Campaign, along with a coalition of organizations that include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Interfaith Alliance and the Religious Action Center, 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 that would update the current hate crimes law. The 1,385 faith leaders signing the letter represent a broad spectrum of religious voices urging passage of a hate crimes bill that is pending in the U.S. Senate.
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 www.clergyagainsthate.org.
In addition to the letter, the Human Rights Campaign, along with the Leadership Council on Civil Rights and the National Black Justice Coalition, also published a full page ad in July 11 edition of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and in the July 16 edition of USA Today. 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 USA Today ad states, "Pastors have nothing to fear. The bill clearly protects free speech and does not muzzle any minister." To view the ad, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/2ntorh
The Matthew Shepard Act would update the current hate crimes statute, enacted in 1968, 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 Matthew Shepard Act criminalize thoughts or speech they only criminalize violent acts.
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. An identical version of the bill, the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105), is currently pending in the U.S. Senate.
The full text of Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's letter is below:
Dear Bishop Jackson:
I was gravely disappointed when I read the advertisement on page 5A of the July
11 edition of USA TODAY expressing your opposition to the hate crimes legislation that has passed the House and is currently pending in the Senate. Your characterization of the legislation was grossly inaccurate and highly prejudicial. Similar misplaced criticisms were leveled against the House-passed legislation (H.R. 1592) during debate on the floor, despite the fact that it includes a provision that expressly preserves the protection of free speech and free exercise under the First Amendment to the Constitution, which includes the protection of ministers preaching their faith.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed the House on May 3,2007 and is currently pending in the Senate, strengthens federal hate crime law in two very significant ways. Currently, for a defendant to be prosecuted for a hate crime, the victim must be engaged in a specific federally protected activity, such as jury duty, voting, or attending public school. Our legislation broadens this provision to cover all violent crimes motivated by race, color, religion or national origin when the defendant causes or attempts to cause bodily injury, through the use of fire, a firearm, or explosive device. Secondly, the legislation expands the current statute to allow prosecutions for crimes based on the victim's sexual orientation, gender, or disability.
Many opponents of hate crimes legislation argue that such proscriptions result in the criminalization of thought or opinion. Nothing could be further from reality. Those of us who have devoted our lives to combating prejudice understand the distinction between ordinary crime and crime motivated by hate. The vicious crimes committed in recent years against James Byrd, Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, David Ritcheson and many others are little more than modern-day lynchings that spread a message of threat and intimidation throughout a community.
Our own history and experiences make clear that the effects of hate crimes extend beyond the particular victim and reflect more pervasive patterns of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and disability. In all of these cases, under hate crimes legislation, it is not the thought or opinion that is criminalized it is the violent act motivated by hate and prejudice that is criminalized.
The First Amendment to our Constitution protects our fundamental right to hold true to our faith, to spread its teachings, to worship freely and without government interference, and to express our beliefs. Absolutely nothing in the House-passed hate crimes legislation or the bill pending in the Senate in any way constrains the freedom of expression or religion, and I-who was born and raised in the parsonage of a fundamentalist Christian church-believe it is wrong to attempt to defeat civil rights legislation based on such a false claim.
We have fought too long and too hard to end prejudice and discrimination in our great nation to allow the great forward march of progress to be halted by precisely the prejudice and fear we have sought to defeat for decades. Accordingly, I urge you to reconsider the positions outlined in your advertisement.
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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