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01/17/2007

FOF again tries to muddy the hate crimes legislation waters

by Jeremy Hooper

As the likelihood that a federal hate crimes bill will pass both chambers increases, the folks at Focus on the Family are ramping up their efforts to convince the president to veto such a measure if it makes it to his desk. And in their attempt to make it look like an anti-hate crimes measure would stifle their religious-based freedom to dislike gay folks, FOF's CitizenLink news today quotes professional "ex-gay" Alan Chambers, who asserts that...

"In Philadelphia, 11 Christians were jailed for sharing a message from the Bible to a crowd of people attending a public pro-gay event"

But here's the thing -- the aforementioned example is wholly, routinely misrepresented by the "pro-family" community! Ya see, the 11 Christians who were arrested in Philadelphia were not, despite what "pro-family" folks keep trying to make folks believe, arrested for benignly sharing their Biblical beliefs. After all, they are members of the group Repent America, an organization that dedicates a large chunk of their time to protesting pro-gay events...

Efsigns.Sized
(Repent America @ Equality Forum 2005)

If sharing their irrational views on homosexuality were a crime, they would have been locked up years ago and the key would've been destroyed. But they weren't arrested at Outfest '04 for their message -- what happened was that they were using a bullhorn to drown out a stage performance with anti-gay shouts, which led several on-site to confront them. This then led the police to ask them to move in order to prevent any potential violence, but they reportedly refused -- which then and only then led to them being arrested for such charges as failure to disperse, possessing an instrument of crime (a bullhorn), obstructing a highway, criminal conspiracy, and disorderly conduct. And yes, under Pennsylvania's hate crimes law they were also given the charge of "ethnic intimidation" -- but in order to receive this additional charge, they had to first engage in behavior that the officers found unlawful!

However, when the charges were contested in court, it was ultimately determined that no hate crime law had been violated, and the charges were dismissed. There is differing opinion as to whether the judge was correct to dismiss the hate crime charges; but even if the judge were 100% correct in throwing out the charges on free speech grounds, it does nothing to negate the necessity of hate crimes laws! For again, it wasn't the simple fact that this was Christians protesting gays that got them arrested in the first place, but rather it was them acting in a manner that the arresting officers found unlawful. Had Michael Marcavage and company not been seen as attempting to disrupt the festival and had they not been perceived as uncooperative by the officers, then there would've been no question of whether they were exercising their right to free speech. We protect unpopular speech in this country! But it was their actions that, either rightfully or unnecessarily, got them arrested.

Had this been angry gay atheists acting in the same exact manner at a local Baptist Convention, they too could and surely would have had the additional "ethnic intimidation" charge applied to their arrest. That's because hate crime laws are meant to protect ANY group that is being targeted by hurtful rhetoric, the likes of which can incite violence towards the larger community. And just like Repent America, this same group could challenge the charge in court and they might ultimately prevail. But their success in the courtroom would in no way speak to the larger issue, which is that crimes specifically targeting a person or group on the basis of their actual or perceived race, religion, ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. should be punished harshly. You cant refute that fact by citing one case in which the charges that led to the arrest might have been too harsh! You have to consider the broader picture.

It's an undeniable fact that incidents of violence and hatred are committed towards all sort of groups on a far-too-frequent basis. Hate crime laws simply work to stamp out those targeted transgressions! Nobody's free speech will be violated in the process, and if it is, then that matter will be settled in a court of law. We, perhaps more than anyone, don't want to see anyone's First Amendment rights violated. But we also see the clear difference between burning "Die f*gs!" or burning "Why did you cheat on me, you bastard?" in someone's front yard. We refuse to let our opposition try and negate the social implications that come with targeted hate go unpunished out of baseless fear that their right to translate Leviticus 18:22 literally will be stifled in the process!

Hate-Crimes Legislation Reappears [FOF CitizenLink]

**UPDATE: Ruling: City of brotherly love correct in detaining protesters of man/man love [G-A-Y]

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Your thoughts

It is mildly ironic that groups like Repent America use Free Speech as a rubric to try to defend their indefensible behavior, considering their use of intimidation to deny that same right to others.

Posted by: Ian D. Stewart | Jan 17, 2007 12:41:23 PM

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