Religious Right Promotes Falsehoods in Last-Ditch Attempt to Stall Federal Hate Crimes Bill

In the days leading up to yesterday’s Senate approval of far-reaching federal hate crimes legislation, religious right anti-gay groups were ramping up their rhetoric in a last-ditch attempt to defeat it.

But while their tone was shriller, their tune hadn’t changed: As they’ve done for months, these organizations were falsely claiming that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would protect pedophiles and inhibit religious expression. Many of the religious right groups issuing alerts in recent days — including the Illinois Family Institute and the Liberty Counsel — seem not to have read the bill at all.

An E-mail sent Tuesday from Rick Scarborough, head of Vision America, exhorted supporters to “KEEP THE HATE CRIMES PRESSURE ON!” It referred to the bill as the “Pedophile Protection Act” because of its “inclusion of pedophiles as a protected class under the proposal that protects homosexuals from hate crimes.” In fact, while the law would allow prosecution of crimes motivated by bias against gays or transgendered people, it would not extend hate crimes protections to pedophiles.

The next day, the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) posted an “urgent” message on its website telling supporters to contact their senators. The proposed legislation was “anti-Christian, pro-LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender]” and “threatens religious liberty, free speech and makes at least 30 different sexual orientations into federally protected minority groups.” According to the TVC, these sexual orientations include incest, voyeurism and bestiality. That’s false; “sexual orientation” refers only to heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. The TVC, in fact, has been listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for years, largely because of its routine promotion of known falsehoods to demonize homosexuals.

Not to be outdone, long-time anti-Semite Ted Pike of the National Prayer Network posted an update yesterday on his website urging followers to call Senate offices. Earlier, he’d lamented that “patriots” weren’t doing enough to defeat the “homosexual lobby.” But if they don’t act, he wrote, “Let me remind you how infinitely more wearying it will be to exist night and day, year after year, shivering and starving in the gulags of the New World Order. If we allow this bill to first take away our free speech, then all other freedoms are going down the drain. Once that happens, there will be nothing to restrain mass arrest, imprisonment, deportation, and murder of probably millions.” In fact, the bill has no bearing on speech.

Another National Prayer Network article posted last week stated that the bill would protect pedophiles because, “especially within the homosexual community [they] are an increasingly powerful political force.” Lest anyone wonder who’s responsible for the legislation, Pike on his website blames “Jewish supremacists” who are trying to corrupt Christian nations so they can rule the world from Jerusalem. Pike’s articles have been posted widely on hate sites, including Davidduke.com and Stormfront.org, the leading white supremacist Web forum.

Some groups have even gone multimedia. The Family Research Council, an anti-gay think tank, this month produced a YouTube video that features congressmen and clergy telling tall tales about the proposed legislation. “If someone, in effect, were to hurt a homosexual, or maybe not hire one, that would become a hate crime which is punished more than if you just hurt someone else,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). In fact, the law has nothing to do with hiring practices and requires prosecutors to show that a crime was committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation; it’s not enough for the victim to be gay.

Also in the video, several speakers who should know better falsely claim that the bill tramples on free speech. “Individual pastors … could be charged or be subject to intimidation for simply expressing a Biblical worldview on the issue of homosexual behavior,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).

Again, that’s untrue. The hate crime bill would extend federal protection to victims of a physical attack (or attempted attack) on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. Pastors would still be free to preach against homosexuality. The act would also increase funding for state and local authorities to prosecute hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation. And it would allow federal authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crimes when state or local agencies don’t do so.

The proposed hate crimes bill was approved as an amendment to a defense spending bill that the Senate is expected to wrap up next week. The bill still isn’t a done deal, however. Although President Barack Obama supports the hate crimes legislation, he has threatened to veto the defense bill if it finances a military program he wants to end, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, members of Stormfront — white supremacists who seemed about as well informed as the religious right organizations and politicians cited above — were griping today about the bill’s passage. Wrote a poster who identified himself as “Reference:” “I’m guessing the legislation implies it’s ok to rob, rape and murder as long as one declares the criminal act had nothing to do with race, etc.”