Their arguments against the bill were almost entirely centered around the notion that this bill creates a "slippery slope" towards Hate Speech legislation.
There is valid reason for concern. Canada, our neighbor to the north, has such legislation. And disturbingly, in 1998, Mark Harding was convicted under a Canadian "hate crime" statue for distributing a pamphlet that dared to criticize Islam.
I don't see anything that would stifle free speech in the passed House bill though. And frankly, I think the extent to which major evangelical political action organizations are getting worked up about that angle of the bill is over-doing it. Especially when they try to invoke the notion that the bill is part of some intentional crusade to "muffle" them. I don't have enough confidence in either major political party to believe either could pull off such a crusade against a targetted group, even if they wanted to.
And, if having their speech be muzzled is such groups' main concern, I'd suggest they start working to influence the culture rather than the congress, because things are already quite bad.
This is not to say I like the bill. I don't. And, I do think it's a dangerous infringement to liberty.
First, let's look at what the bill's called again - the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007." Now let's take a look at the bill's text:
Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 - Authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime that: (1) constitutes a crime of violence under federal law or a felony under state, local, or Indian tribal law; and (2) is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws. Directs the Attorney General to give priority for assistance to crimes committed by offenders who have committed crimes in more than one state and to rural jurisdictions that have difficulty covering the extraordinary investigation or prosecution expenses.
Authorizes the Attorney General to award grants to assist state, local, and Indian law enforcement agencies with such extraordinary expenses. Directs the Office of Justice Programs to: (1) work closely with funded jurisdictions to ensure that the concerns and needs of all affected parties are addressed; and (2) award grants to state and local programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.
Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit willfully causing bodily injury to any person because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of such person.
Amends the Hate Crimes Statistics Act to expand data collection and reporting requirements under such Act to include: (1) crimes manifesting prejudice based on gender and gender identity; and (2) hate crimes committed by and against juveniles.
Do you see anything in there about preventing hate crimes? Yeah, neither do I. But that's only the start of the problem with the bill's name. The bigger problem (and, yes, I recognize both political parties pull this stunt) is that if you are against the bill, it implies you are "against preventing hate crimes."
In fact, some left-wing blogs make this exact smear: "Religious Right Fights For The Right To Hate".
Give me a break.
The two foundational issues with this bill are these though:
1. It enters a defendant's thoughts and beliefs into the legal system. The legal system has no business deciding if your motive for some crime was some sort of bigotry (and then punishing you more for it!). Americans must continue to have a right to believe as they choose. If their belief leads them to commit a crime, punish them for the crime, not the bad belief. To do otherwise is quite literally "thought policing."
What Thomas Jefferson penned in 1802 is equally true and important in 2007:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.
2. It's an intrusion into the state's rights and responsibilities. If the bill's name got one thing right, it's that the bill focuses on "Local Law Enforcement." Unless a crime spans state borders or is a matter of (literally) national importance, like terrorism, the responsibility should lie with the state or local police and the federal government has no business getting involved.
On those two grounds alone, with no slippery slopes to even consider, the bill infringes on personal liberty of belief and state liberty to govern themselves. Base on these infringements on liberty alone, I hope the Senate has the good sense to not allow the senate version of this bill to pass.