The House has finally passed the measure that is meant to expand the 1968 federal hate crimes law. It is likely that the Senate will also pass the measure, but President Bush still promises to veto the legislation.
While some opponents of the law argue that it will provide special treatment for such groups as gays, it seems difficult to substantiate this claim. The law will protect anyone, gay or straight, who is attacked not for personal reasons, but because of his or her “group” or “class.” The law aims to protect everyone equally.
Another, more serious concern is that the law attempts to control and restrict people’s thoughts. As the Christian right’s James Dobson put it, the law “could silence and punish Christians for their moral beliefs.” The fear is, for example, that a person vigorously expressing his deep belief that homosexuality is wrong could be mistaken as a hate-crime offender ~ which appears to be a blatant violation of the right to free speech upon which this nation is founded.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union – which traditionally has opposed hate crime laws on the basis they infringed on speech – has endorsed this bill, saying, “Unlike in previous years, this legislation balances the desire for a strong federal response to criminal civil rights violations with clear protections for free speech and free association.”
While the rights of traditionally-minded people to hold and express their opinions must be respected and protected, it appears that this new law will in every way serve to strengthen the roots of the Constitution: Bush should allow the law to pass.