Federal hate crimes legislation was introduced in the US Senate today, including protections for Americans based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, which is sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR), 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 introduced in the House earlier this year, and other hate crime legislation has previously passed in both houses of Congress.
People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas issued the following statement:
"It's long past time for the federal government to step in and take a role in prosecuting hate crimes targeting these groups. This legislation will give it the power to stand on the side of justice when local law enforcement agencies are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. We have a deep commitment to protecting all American citizens, and this bill will help put that into action.
"The legislation introduced today includes hate crimes protections based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and the sad truth is that every one of these protections is desperately needed. Far too often in this country, people are victimized specifically because of the community to which they belong. When individuals are targeted because of who they are, entire communities suffer, and it's time to put that to an end.
"Americans support hate crimes protections for these groups. Members of Congress should catch up to the public and pass strong legislation to discourage crimes grounded in hatred.
"Congress shouldn't be distracted by the far right's preposterous claims that hate crimes laws are somehow an infringement on religious liberty or free speech. The Constitution protects our right rights to assemble, worship, and express ourselves freely, but it doesn't protect violence.
"People For the American Way is committed to enacting this legislation into law at long last. I urge the House and the Senate to pass this legislation and to make sure that every American can live openly without the threat of harassment or violence."