On Thursday May 3, the House of Representatives overcame an intensive propaganda campaign by anti-gay organizations and passed hate crimes legislation that would allow federal law enforcement officials to step in when state or local officials cannot or will not prosecute a violent hate crime. That's the good news. The bad news is that we'll almost certainly have to put up with even more apocalyptic rhetoric from right-wing leaders as the Senate considers the bill.
I've watched Religious Right leaders lying about gay people for years. Over and over again, people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Lou Sheldon and others tell their followers that gays are their enemies, out to destroy their churches and their families. But even after years of hearing and reading their manipulative and misleading rhetoric, I still shake my head at the willingness of so many religious leaders -- people who put themselves out there as advocates for Truth -- to be so brazenly and unashamedly dishonest in pursuit of a political goal.
Their immediate agenda here is to derail the hate crimes legislation that would extend federal law to cover violent crimes committed against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The vast majority of Americans supports these protections. In our increasingly diverse society, it makes good sense that we take a strong stand against singling people out for violence because we don't like something about them.
The radical right, however, opposes any legal recognition for LGBT people. And since they can't defeat the bill on its merits - even most ultraconservatives seem to understand that beating up or killing someone for being gay isn't something to be proud of - right-wing groups like the American Family Association and Repent America have decided to haul out their favorite weapon, the charge that equal rights advocates and Democrats in Congress are out to criminalize Christianity.
Say what you want about the Religious Right, they have a flair for the dramatic: images of preachers being dragged from their pulpits for preaching against homosexuality, images of Christians thrown in jail for quoting scripture.
Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition: "...if a pastor stands up in the pulpit and says homosexuality is a sin ... it will be considered hate speech. And if this law passes, the federal government will go after people who say those kinds of things."
Chuck Colson, who should know a thing or two about crime: "But this bill is not about hate. It's not even about crime. It's about outlawing peaceful speech--speech that asserts that homosexual behavior is morally wrong...If this dangerous law passes, pastors who preach sermons giving the biblical view of homosexuality could be prosecuted...Clearly, the intent of this law is not to prevent crime, but to shut down freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of thought. Its passage would strike at the very heart of our democracy."
James Dobson: "There's a vote coming up on some insidious legislation in the United States Congress that could silence and punish Christians for their moral beliefs," he said on his radio broadcast recently. "That means that as a Christian - if you read the Bible a certain way with regard to morality - you may be guilty of committing a 'thought crime.' "
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins: "...the only effect [hate crimes legislation] will truly have is to gag people of faith and conviction who disagree with the homosexual agenda."
Vision America's Rick Scarborough: "While the majority of pastors and Christians are clueless as to what this legislation is designed to accomplish, I assure you that homosexual activists are quietly rejoicing over the open season their lawyers and allies are about to enjoy with those of us who are visible in the pro-family movement. Religious freedom would be dealt a deathblow and religious tolerance would become history if this legislation becomes law."
It's especially appalling that the Right has continued to make bogus claims like this because the bill includes a provision explicitly protecting free speech and religious liberty:
"Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution."
It's right there in the bill that passed the House. It could not be clearer that this bill has nothing to do with silencing preachers and everything to do with prosecuting violent hate crimes.
Perhaps the American Family Association most clearly reveals what's really going on here under cover of these false claims about religious liberty. The AFA has posted a list they call "sexual orientations" that links homosexuality with pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, prostitution and a list of sexual fetishes clearly designed to make gays seem creepy and scary - and to imply the bill would extend hate crimes coverage to a wide range of kinky sex practices. Bishop Harry Jackson seemingly referred to the AFA list on a C-SPAN debate the day of the vote. Of course, the term "sexual orientation" for purposes of the legislation refers to heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Nothing to do with animals or dead people. But I suppose the folks at the AFA had a good time putting their list together.
Dobson is trying to get 250,000 signatures on a petition to Congress opposing "legislation that ultimately could strip away the right of Christians to express a biblical view of homosexuality." Here's a way to tell the Senate not to listen to these lies.