Let me share an excerpt of my response letter with you:
Dear Representative Clyburn,
“… Our position remains clear with concern to the Hate Crimes Bill (HR 1592/S1105). As in our previous correspondence which is on Congressional record along with our original petition against the bill, we stand united against violence targeted against homosexual citizens as we do against all human beings. The love of God would not allow us to take any other position.
Today, we challenge this proposed legislation not on the basis of its protection of victims of hate crimes, but on the basis that it does not assure our freedom of speech or freedom to exercise religion. Although it may appear that this legislation does not implicate free speech issues, we are well aware that law may be interpreted otherwise by the courts. The Senate, unlike the House, has yet to adopt the Davis amendment. This amendment is purported to protect churches, yet we maintain that it is only deceptive, window dressing. The transcripts regarding Representative Gohmert's concerns about the House bill further highlight that our concerns are valid.”
We included in the Clyburn letter a synopsis of an important exchange taken from the Congressional record. I have written an abbreviated version for you below.
The Religious Freedom Problem with HR 1592
In the congressional subcommittee, Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert of Texas moved to remove "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from the bill. It failed on a recorded vote of 19 to 13. Next, Congressman Mike Pence from Indiana offered an important amendment on Freedom of Religion.
A number of Republicans spoke in support of it. But the Democrats, Jerrold Nadler, Tammy Baldwin and Chairman John Conyers kept evading the issue. <p>Finally Congressman Gohmert asked, "If a minister was giving a sermon, a Bible Study or any kind of written or spoken message saying that homosexuality was a serious sin and a person in the congregation went out and committed a crime against a homosexual would the minister be charged with the crime of incitement?"
Gohmert was attempting to clarify and emphasize that the legislation would have an effect on the constitutional right to religious freedom and thus the Pence amendment was needed to protect religious speech. The Democrats continued to explain why they could not accept the amendment.
Lundgren continuously shot down their answers. He said, "What is your answer? Would there be incitement charges again the pastor?"
And finally Democrat Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama spoke up and said, ‘Yes.’ ”
What was amazing about this exchange is that Davis finally admitted that pastors could be convicted of incitement under the current version of the law. It is important to remember that in the future changes and redefinitions to this law could be imposed which could infringe upon our rights in dramatic ways.
At the end of my letter to Clyburn, I challenged him to a debate on the network of his choice within the next ten days. I would love to debate him on television, radio, or both. It will be interesting to see if he deems this topic worthy of debate.
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.