Erik Stanley

Behind a law that criminalizes the beliefs of a criminal defendant is a governmental disapproval of those beliefs. If society punishes a crime more severely solely because of the beliefs of the defendant at the time the crime was committed, then a message is being sent that society disapproves of those beliefs and that they merit enhanced punishment. Therein lies the concern for those who oppose the Hate Crimes Bill. It would be the first time that the federal government has formally written into law a potentially punitive disapproval of the belief that homosexual behavior is bad, wrong, problematic, or even simply not normal.

If, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” then we must be vigilant when government, in any way, seeks to demonstrate disapproval of a sincerely-held religious belief. A recent Pew Forum poll found that a majority of Americans believe engaging in homosexual behavior is a sin. The Hate Crimes Bill suddenly stands as a statement that the law itself—not just some public official—does not agree with those sincerely held beliefs.

How long will it be before that disapproval of opposition to homosexual behavior is written into some other law? If Europe, Canada, and Australia are an example (and they are), then we do not have to wait long. Simply ask Pastor Ake Green from Sweden, who preached a biblically consistent sermon about homosexual behavior. He was charged with a hate crime, sentenced to jail time, and had to fight his way to the Swedish Supreme Court to have the conviction overturned.

Yet FactCheck says, “Hey, we have a First Amendment in this country that protects religious freedom, and the Hate Crimes Bill says it will not apply to constitutionally protected speech.” But that’s just the point: how long will it be before a pastor is called upon to testify in a criminal trial regarding what he preached about homosexual behavior? How long will it be before a church member is called upon to testify against a defendant in a criminal case concerning what the church believes about homosexual behavior? Not long if homosexual activist groups have their way. And once the first pastor or church member is called upon to testify in a criminal trial, that belief has now become an essential element of a crime. If beliefs that can result in a subpoena don’t produce a chill on speech, I don’t know what will.

We know that everywhere hate crimes laws have passed, hate speech convictions have followed. And why not? Once government has enshrined into the law a specific disapproval of a religious belief against homosexual behavior, it becomes easy to transfer that disapproval into other contexts.

The American journalist Walter Lippman stated, “The war for liberty never ends.” Those words are very true. It is far better to jump out of the pot when the water is tepid than to find ourselves on a dinner plate one day.

Erik Stanley

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