With the Memorial Day weekend behind us, the Senate returns to the Hill for a few more weeks before their summer recess. They are currently still attempting to make their mark on the nation. What they accomplish before their summer break will set the tone for the next Presidential election and give us something of a report card on the state of our Union. The biggest question the average American has about both the Senate and the House is whether these great bodies can agree on anything that matters.
I continue to be amazed at the partisan, ideological strife that is boiling on the Hill. It seems that we are experiencing a civil war of ideas. Sophisticated name-calling is the order of the day and everyone wants to play macho politics. As we fight among ourselves, there is a litany of issues that are time sensitive and cannot be put off to a later date. Things like overhauling our immigration policies, setting a clear direction in Iraq, responding to the threat of terrorism, and the environment all require clear-headed, strategic thinking on a timely basis. Before we can solve problems, set agendas, and get busy making America safe we must focus on a set of underlying principles or values that we can all agree upon.
Constitutional freedoms have historically been the factors that have given a sense of unity to this land. Unfortunately, in this strategic moment it seems that many Americans are attempting to redefine “the ties that bind.” In addition, the U.S. has always balanced stimulating free enterprise with advancing national, social goals. Belying our economic successes have been fundamental liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, representative government, and the right to a fair trial.
For me, a seemingly innocuous bill known in the Senate as Matthew Shepard’s Law (S1105) can lead us down a slippery slope that ultimately limits our freedoms. The proposed hate crimes legislation does not provide adequate protection of free speech. Many seasoned legal minds believe that S1105 and its companion House bill HR 1592 are discriminatory measures that criminalize thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and provide greater protection to some victims than others simply because of an inherent status or a lifestyle that they have chosen such as gay, lesbian, or sexual orientation.
The bill, as proposed, also has the potential of interfering with religious liberty and freedom of speech, and creates additional risks for the future.
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.