Erik Stanley

FactCheck.org recently posted an article that proposes to “answer” some questions about the impact of the Hate Crimes Bill, currently pending in the Senate as S.909...but perhaps they ought to check their facts.

The article summarily dismisses claims that the Hate Crimes Bill would muzzle pastors and churches and states, “In reality, there is nothing in the bill that says pastors must zip their lips rather than denounce homosexuality….” FactCheck points to the existence of the First Amendment and some “constitutional protection” language in the bill and concludes, “What the bill would not do is prohibit anyone’s pastor, rabbi or imam from speaking disapprovingly about homosexuality.”

The article misses the point entirely. As Scottish philosopher David Hume once said, “It is seldom that any liberty is lost all at once.” The fact that the Hate Crimes Bill does not specifically say that pastors may not speak biblical truth about homosexual behavior does not mean that it is not a threat to religious liberty. In fact, it is often the subtle erosion of religious liberty that poses the gravest threat. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, the Hate Crimes Bill serves to turn up the heat on pastors and churches. How? Glad you asked.

There is only one difference between an assault not classified as a hate crime and an assault that is classified as a hate crime: the beliefs of the individual committing the crime. A crime is a crime under criminal law regardless of the belief of the perpetrator. We gain nothing under criminal law by knowing what a particular defendant thought about a particular victim other than perhaps to inflame our sensitivities or satisfy our own morbid curiosity. Motive for the crime has never been a required element of any criminal prosecution. Criminal law has operated since the founding of this country (and indeed before) by punishing people for their acts regardless of the belief behind the act. For purposes of criminal justice, we as a people have always been more concerned with whether a person committed a crime and not why the person did so. The Hate Crimes Bill seeks to change that by making the beliefs of the criminal relevant and an element of the crime itself.


Erik Stanley

Erik Stanley is senior legal counsel, director of Church Project with Alliance Defending Freedom.