Throughout my nearly nine years in Congress, I have been downrange with our troops every year in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also supported every defense authorization bill that came before the U.S. House of Representatives.
Therefore, it was with a heavy heart yesterday that I joined 130 of my House Republican colleagues in breaking that personal tradition and opposed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.
The reason? The Democrat majority cynically included hate crimes provisions in the bill that threaten the very freedoms of speech and religion that draw our soldiers into the uniform of this nation.
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I find it unconscionable that we would erode the freedoms for which our soldiers wear the uniform in a bill that is designed to provide resources those soldiers need to get the job done and come home safe.
It is simply wrong to use a defense bill as a vehicle for divisive liberal social policies that are wholly unrelated to our country’s national security. By doing so, Democrats in the majority, with the assent of this administration, are piling liberal social priorities onto the backs of our soldiers.
And as far as the hate crimes provisions themselves are concerned, they are unnecessary and antithetical to our First Amendment traditions.
Violent attacks on people are already illegal regardless of the motive behind them, and there is no evidence that these attacks are not being fully and aggressively prosecuted under current law.
To put it quite simply, adding hate crimes to the defense bill puts us on a slippery slope of deeming particular groups more important than others under our system of justice.
While hate crimes laws serve no practical purpose, they do serve to penalize people for their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.
Some of these thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, such as racism, sexism, and bias against people because of their sexual preferences, I find abhorrent. I disdain discrimination. I disdain bigotry. But these hate crimes provisions are broad enough to encompass legitimate beliefs and will have a chilling effect against religious leaders in this country.
Under this hate crimes legislation, any pastor, preacher, priest, rabbi, or imam who may give a sermon out of their moral traditions about sexual practices could presumably be found to have aided, abetted or induced in the commission of a federal crime, as defined by current federal law.
The provisions added to this legislation threaten religious freedom by criminalizing thought.
It is simply wrong to further criminalize thought and chill religious expression of Americans.
A defense authorization bill ought to be about the national defense.
Let us remember why they put on the uniform. Let us remember what our soldiers are fighting: they fight to defend freedom.
It is sad for America when Democrats pass liberal social policy on the backs of our troops.
Congressman Pence represents Indiana's 6th congressional district and serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
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