An article released by the Gallup News Service on May 17, 2007 ran the following headline: “Public Favors Expansion of Hate Crime Law to Include Sexual Orientation.” The author of the article, Frank Newport, asserted that a substantial majority of Americans are in favor of adding sexual orientation as a protected class of people under new the hate crimes legislation.
As most of my readers are aware, the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed HR 1592 --- the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 --- in early May. The bill was whisked through Congress in less than one month ---this is record timing. The Senate version of the bill is called the “Matthew Shepard Act”, named after the Wyoming college student who was murdered in 1998.
The average person does not know the details of the bills. Instead of using the powerful polling tool to tease out heartfelt thoughts about the legislation, Mr. Newport says, “Although many Americans may be unfamiliar with the pending new law, there appears to be little hesitation to offer an opinion. Only 5% of Americans say they don't have an opinion about the expansion of the law.”
Once again, misinformation leads to poor uninformed opinions. Uninformed opinions inspire poor decisions, and poor decisions perpetuate mediocrity in our nation.
Although I was incensed by the bias this so-called “objective tool” will introduce into the public dialogue and the body politic, I decided to look closer at the questions. Not surprisingly, there were two glaring mistakes in the poll’s construction. First of all, the misguided pollster failed to address the freedom of speech and/or religious liberties issues about which opponents of the legislation are concerned. Second, the two simple questions used in the poll did not address any specifics of the legislation.
The questions were:
1. Now, thinking about what have been called "hate crimes" -- those crimes committed because the criminal hates the group of people to which the victim belongs. As you may know, federal law currently allows prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin. Do you favor or oppose these laws?
2. There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?
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.