Religious leaders renew call for hate-crimes legislation

By Kenny Byrd

(ABP) — In light of newly released statistics reporting a rise in hate crimes, leaders of the Interfaith Alliance have sent a letter to U.S. senators asking for passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The legislation would make it easier for federal prosecutors to pursue crimes against racial, religious and ethnic minorities, as well as gays and lesbians.

Many religious conservatives oppose the idea, because it would focus on the hate motivation rather than the crime itself and would raise sexual orientation to a protected status. But other religious leaders have backed it as a way to curb violent crime.

“When true to the prophetic core of our religions, we cannot condemn hate and then refuse to act to stop the hate and violence fomented upon us,” Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, stated in the letter. “ and government must work together to create a society in which diverse people are safe as well as free.”

The U.S. Department of Justice’s 1999 Hate Crimes Statistics report shows a growing number of hate crimes being committed against individuals based on race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

The report said that 9,301 hate crime offenses were reported in 1999. Of those, 5,240 were motivated by bias against race, 1,532 by religion, 1,487 by sexual orientation, 1,011 by ethnicity or national origin and 21 by disability.

Gaddy disputed claims by Religious Right leaders that the legislation could infringe upon their rights to hold or espouse their personal religious beliefs. “Simply put, it is incomprehensible for this bill to be considered in any way a limitation on the rights and practices of religious people,” he said.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Commission, has been quoted as being opposed to the measure. “All crimes committed against human persons should be dealt with justly, equitably and swiftly under the laws of the land,” he said.

The ERLC listed 10 reasons for opposing hate-crimes legislation, including the possibility that gay-and-lesbian advocates would seek to punish those who preach and the agency’s belief that genuine hate crimes are not widespread. Another objection cited by the ERLC is the measure would advance “the radical, well-publicized agenda of homosexuals to gain acceptance for and legal recognition of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle.”

Associated Baptist Press. Used with Permission.

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