Last week I was surprised by an underhanded attack on our nation’s freedom. This attack did not occur on foreign soil or in the Middle East. The attack did not occur as a result of terrorists, radicals, or extremists. This attack against freedom was covered on C-SPAN and occurred on the floor of the Senate, in front of thousands of Americans. Religious freedom and freedom of speech are being compromised in the name of misguided compassion.
The S.1105 Hate Crimes Bill (often referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act) was introduced in the Senate last Wednesday as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill which involves funding for the war in Iraq. What do hate crimes have to do with the war in Iraq? Absolutely nothing!
This move was politics at its worst. The hate crimes legislation never went through the subcommittee for discussion or mark-up, senators were not allowed to discuss the merit of the Hate Crimes Bill on its own merit, and the normal process of legislation was circumvented. Senator Ted Kennedy has led the effort to pass this bill despite the opposition of millions of Americans. In personal meetings my staff and I have had with members of the judicial committee of the Senate, they all have admitted getting a great number of calls from outraged citizens who see the hate crimes bill as bad legislation.
So how can the majority party justify changing the rules on this legislation? The process we are describing is bill bundling. This technique has been used by both parties in the past, but it represents political cynicism and public manipulation at its worst. Here’s how it works. When the majority party wants to pass an unpopular bill that could not stand up to intense debate, they couple that bill with something the opposition wants badly. Therefore, in most cases the minority party swallows its pride and lets the bad bill pass.
Everyone knows that President Bush has been slavishly attempting to get budget authorization for the war in Iraq. Kennedy and his cohorts are dangling a tremendously tempting carrot before the President. He has to decide on two issues: 1.) Will he set a date for withdrawal of the troops from Iraq? and 2.) Will he break his promise to veto the hate crimes legislation?
This is a time when everyone who believes in freedom needs to support the president. We also need to pray that he will not blink in this high tech form of political brinkmanship.
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.