Last week, the news was filled with the tragic events of the Virginia Tech massacre. I personally attended a national press conference sponsored by evangelical Christian leaders to express our corporate sorrow and condolences to the faculty, friends, and families of the slain and traumatized students at this important national institution. Unfortunately, while the nation appropriately grieves about the fate of these kids and their loved ones, another massacre is being planned.
The massacre I am referring to deals with the surreptitious attempt by the Congress and Senate to strip the nation of religious freedom and the ability to preach the gospel from our church pulpits. This may sound incredulous at first blush but it is true. The Hate Crimes Prevention bills which are currently being put forth can be used in the future to censor the church and its ministers. Let me explain.
Similar laws have are being enforced around the world with an anti-Christian bias. Here are several noticeable cases:
In Sweden, Pastor Ake Greens was indicted, convicted and sentenced to 30 days because of a hate crime violation. The laws of Sweden are very strict with regard to hate speech and expressing contempt towards a person’s sexual orientation. Pastor Greens simply read from the Bible and gave the Bible’s view on homosexual practices at his Borgholm, Sweden church. No riots were incited or accounts of personal brutality towards gays occurred after his statements. He was punished based upon statements he made in a normal weekly service. (Washington Post; January 29, 2005: Swede’s Sermon on Gays: Bigotry or Free Speech?)
In Australia, two evangelical pastors were charged with violating the State of Victoria’s “hate crimes” laws last year for criticizing Islam. This “offense” took place as part of a Christian conference. Once again, there were no riots or personal injury to Muslims as a result of the statements. The judge, contrary to logic, ruled that the pastors had incited “hatred and fear” against Muslims. (The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, August 14, 2006: Aussie Pastors Face Jail Sentences for Expressing Beliefs)
In Canada, a Catholic city councilor was fined $1,000 for simply restating the church’s teaching on homosexuality. He publicly stated that a gay couple’s lifestyle was “not normal and not natural.” his personal beliefs were deemed “hate speech” under Canada's hate crimes law. (LifeSite News, January 19, 2007: Canadian City Councilor Fined $1000 for Saying Homosexuality Not Normal or Natural)
As the nation mourned last week, HR 1592 “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007” was being discussed in a congressional subcommittee. The points that I have brought up were discussed and dismissed. Next week, the subcommittee is scheduled to bring its report back to the full committee. This legislation will grant protected status to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Further, it will mandate unequal protection under the law and will pave the way for the criminalization of thoughts and religious beliefs contrary to “politically correct” ideas.
As an African American, I have long questioned the attempts of the gay community to piggy back on the legislative breakthroughs blacks have achieved in civil rights. As I think about hate crime legislation in the past, I think about a judicial system that refused to give blacks equal justice under the law. The historic problem for blacks was that racist groups conspired with law enforcement groups. Additional legislation would have never been necessary if the existing laws of the land had been enforced fairly.
In contrast, gays already are a formidable force in the legal arena and courts are often extremely deferential to their cases. Additional protection for gays is not necessary. This legislation will not just over-protect them, it will bring the threat of invasive, governmental interference with the doctrines and practice of the Church. We have faced the removal of crosses and commandments from every public facility; this same pressure could be felt within the four walls of the church.
Religious liberty battles have most recently been championed by white evangelical groups. It’s important at this juncture that all Americans lift their voices concerning this legislation. This week I am calling a press conference which will involve some of the nation’s most influential black religious leaders. The proponents of this bill have assumed that black religious leaders will not catch on to the long term implications of the legislation. Without a massive public outcry, this act may be put into force within a few weeks.
My alarm about the hate crimes bill is bigger than my concerns about the gay movement. The question we must ask ourselves is this, “Do we want an America in which no one can express their true religious views”? Isn’t freedom of speech a major value of our nation?
Some gays chant, “Stay out of our bedrooms!” Pro-abortion advocates say, “Keep your hands off my reproductive organs!” Evangelicals can rightfully say, “Stay out of my pulpit!”
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.