Michael Wolraich's picture

    Persecution Politics: Conservatives Challenge New Hate Crime Law

    A conservative "civil liberties" group has challenged the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center is suing U.S. government on behalf of three pastors and the president of the American Family Association of Michigan. The suit alleges that the law violates the plaintiffs' freedom of speech and freedom of religion under the First Amendment, the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment, Federal jurisdiction constraints of the 10th Amendment, and, for good measure, the Constitution's Commerce Clause. That's three Amendments and one Clause, which is an awful lot of unconstitutionality for one bill.

    According to Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, "the sole purpose of this law is to criminalize the Bible." It's other sole purpose, he claimed, is to use the threat of prosecution "to silence Christians from expressing their Biblically-based religious belief that homosexual conduct is a sin." It's other other sole purpose is to elevate "persons who engage in deviant sexual behaviors," i.e. perverts, "to a special protected class of persons." And it's other other other sole purpose is to "pay off" homosexual advocacy groups for supporting Obama in the last election. That's an awful lot of sole purposes for one bill.

    Robert Muise, who is handling the case, explained that the new law "creates 'thought crimes' by criminalizing certain ideas, beliefs, and opinions." This position is shared by the James Dobson who has warned, "If you read the Bible a certain way with regard to morality - you may be guilty of committing a 'thought crime.'" It's also shared by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), whose office has produced talking points declaring that "The Hate Crimes bill creates a new Federal 'Thought Crime.'" Actually, a lot of right wing folks share this view. Just google "homosexual thought crime" for hours of surfing pleasure.

    But to jump straight to the heart of the matter, listen to Andrea Laffery, director of the Traditional Values Coalition: "The goal is to undermine the First Amendment and persecute Christians who oppose homosexuality."

    If you're not a right wing zealot or a gay fascist, you may be wondering why anyone thinks that the hate crime bill, which is designed to combat violent against homosexuals, persecutes Christians. In his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Richard Hofstadter notes that political paranoiacs tend to project their own qualities and aspirations onto others. Thus, members of the religious right project their own hatred and intolerance of homosexuals onto the homosexuals. This act of projection enables them to feel justified in their hatred and intolerance. As Freud writes in his analysis of paranoia, "He hates (persecutes) me, which will entitle me to hate him."

    In fact, the religious right has a long history of trying to reverse the intolerance equation. For instance, Anita Bryant, a former pop singer and beauty queen, famously campaigned against a 1977 Miami ordinance to guarantee equal employment and housing rights for gays by stating, "If this ordinance amendment is allowed to become law, you will in fact be infringing upon my right or rather DISCRIMINATING against me as a citizen and mother to teach my children and set examples or point to others as examples of God's moral code as stated in the Holy Scriptures." [Emphasis hers.]

    Tim LaHaye, who created the bestselling Left Behind series, argued that "when all job discrimination for homosexuality is removed...teachers can be expected to brainwash our children with the 'blessings' of the unhappy gay life."

    But the award for Best Projection in Homophobic Literature goes to Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, authors of The Pink Swastika, for attempting to prove that the Nazis were not intolerant of homosexuals; they were homosexuals. Scott Lively, incidentally, has just made the news again for speaking at a conference in Uganda about the evils of the "gay agenda." After the conference, the Ugandan Parliament increased the penalty for homosexuality to death by stoning. That should stop those intolerant homosexuals from criminalizing the Bible.

    And by the way, Matthew Shepard, the murder victim for whom the hate crimes bill was named, was not killed because he was gay. According to Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), it was just a robbery. The accusation of homophobia is "a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills." Obviously, no one would ever murder people because of their homosexuality.

    I'm currently writing a book on right wing persecution politics titled How Bill O'Reilly Saved Christmas, to be released in October. For more on the topic, see my Persecution Politics series.



    So it's a Biblically-based religious belief that it's okay for a gang of testosterone-laden, drunk, straight men to lie in wait outside of gay bars for a gay man to exit the bar alone so that they can follow him to an unpeopled area and beat the shit out of him? Is that in the Book of John or Matthew?

    You'll have to ask the Latriner, but I'm pretty sure this is backed up scripturally by God opening up a can of whoop-ass on Sodom and Gomorrah. We do want to be God-like don't we?

    That Hofstadter essay should basically be on the front page of the Times and the Post every morning these days. It's a useful summary of a lot of the news.

    I know that a comment on a stale dag post isn't exactly the front page of the Times, but here's the link: http://www.harpers.org/archive/1964/11/0014706

    I suspect their filing will be thrown out, because they claim certain people are "elevated to protected class status", which is false.  Protected class does not refer to certain groups of people, it refers to a classification.

    Protected class under the law refers to race, religion, gender, etc, but not any PARTICULAR race, religion, etc.

    It is confusing, because when we hear the word "class", we naturally think of middle class, upper class, working class, etc. But in the legal context, in this area of law, class refers to a classification, such as race, religion, gender, country of origin, etc.

    So if the protected class is religion, it is never a case where Baptists are protected, for instance, but not Mormons or Catholics. If you are discriminated against, say, in employment or public accommodation, in order to remain within the law, the discrimination cannot be based on race, religion, etc, and it is often difficult to prove anyway.

    If a business bars you from entering because you are wearing a tank top, that is legal, because manner of dress is not a protected class under the law.

    So their whole premise is faulty, and distorts the wording and the meaning of the law. The law doesn't change how any particular group is treated, it merely prevents discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  It treats all people equally.

    This same group has been spreading the lie that this law prohibits hate speech, which it does not.

    They can espouse any damned-fool doctrine they want, but they should probably be careful not to shout something about the victim's religion, race, etc, when violently assaulting them.  That is when the law kicks in. 

    You will often hear the falsehood that "the law doesn't protect me, as a heterosexual white male, because I am not in any protected class".  This is nonsense.  I can give you plenty of examples of African Americans being prosecuted for a bias-related crime because at the time they were assaulting a white person they yelled about hating white people or they don't think white people should be in their neighborhood.  Several recent incidents like this in Seattle, here is one:


    and another:



    Thanks for the legal analysis and the links. I'd also add that the law expressly rules out any abridgement of the First Amendment (not that it would be Constitutional in any case):

    Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.

    That said, I hesitate to respond seriously to the right's objections, since I don't think that they've been offered in good faith. The opposition to the act is not based on any serious assessment of its constitutionality or its effect on Christians. It's simply one more opportunity to flog the persistent myth of Christian persecution. This myth has political value for the right wing. Thus, conservative leaders have treated the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act as a political opportunity even while decrying it as a catastrophe.

    Latest Comments