Three momentous events took place in America last month, but chances are you’re only aware of two of them.
The first, of course, was Hurricane Katrina—a natural disaster that laid waste to portions of three states, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents, a loss of precious life that cannot be measured, and causing physical damage that will cost billions of dollars to undo. For two solid weeks, we all were riveted to the unprecedented sights and sounds of the Gulf Coast: Filth-encrusted corpses lying abandoned in the street; media reports of gun-toting thugs raping and pillaging their way through New Orleans; throngs of evacuees waiting three, four, and five days for a fresh supply of water before boarding buses that would take them to Houston or Austin or Chicago or California—possibly forever.
The second event was U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s death in early September. Though courtwatchers had been expecting a vacancy ever since learning of his thyroid cancer last October, his passing complicated the political landscape because it came two months after Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement. As a result, President Bush moved federal appellate Judge John G. Roberts—originally nominated to replace O’Connor—to fill Rehnquist’s seat, noting it was imperative that the Court have a chief justice in place by October 3, the first day of its new term. Rehnquist was one of the Court’s most important conservative voices; O’Connor its most influential swing vote. Though O’Connor has announced she will remain until the U.S. Senate confirms her replacement, the prospect of two vacancies meant many eager politicians smelled blood in the water, as pundits speculated round the clock on cable TV.
It was against this backdrop Sept. 14 that the U.S. House of Representatives, on a 233-199 vote, passed a surprising amendment (HR 2662) to an unrelated bill (HR 3132) for the first time to include people who voluntarily choose to engage in homosexual or transgendered behavior as protected classes under federal hate crimes laws.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.
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