Long Overdue Hate Crimes Legislation Introduced in House

People For the American Way pledges support for bill to let federal government stand on the side of justice

A bipartisan group of members of Congress last night introduced federal hate crimes legislation in the US House of Representatives, including protections for Americans based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, which is sponsored by representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Barney Frank (D-MA), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Mary Bono (R-CA), has strong bipartisan support. The legislation would make violent crimes prosecutable as hate crimes when the victim is targeted because of his or her gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Similar legislation was passed by the House last year, but was blocked by the Senate despite the Senate’s earlier support of an analogous bill.

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas issued the following statement:

“Hate crimes are an affront to American ideals. When people are targeted for violence because of who they are, entire communities suffer. When local governments cannot or will not prosecute the perpetrators of hate crimes, the federal government must be able to take a stand on the side of justice. The hate crimes bill introduced today is an affirmation of our national commitment to protecting all citizens.

“Hate crimes protections based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity are long overdue. The sad truth is that too many gay and lesbian Americans face the reality of violence and harassment based on their sexual orientation. And for too long, they have not been protected by federal law targeting hate crimes.

“Most Americans support hate crimes protections for these groups. Members of Congress should follow the lead of the people and act quickly to pass strong legislation to discourage violent crimes grounded in hatred.

“Members of Congress should not be distracted by the radical right’s unfounded claims that hate crimes laws are somehow an infringement of free speech or religious liberty. The Constitution protects Americans’ rights to assemble, worship, and express themselves freely, but it doesn’t protect violence, no matter what that violence is meant to communicate.

“People For the American Way will work hard to help pass this legislation and to make sure that every American can live openly without the threat of harassment or violence.”

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