Focus on the Family Lies About Proposed Hate Crimes Bill

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2007

Focus on the Family is running around with a twisted interpretation of the proposed hate crime legislation before Congress. But before we delve into what they have to say, let’s take a look at what the proposed legislation actually looks like. It’s in legalese, but bear with me. Here’s the text of H.R. 254:

Section 245 of title 18, United States Code, is amended–

    (1) by redesignating subsections (c) and (d) as subsections (d) and (e), respectively; and
    (2) by inserting after subsection (b) the following:

`(c)(1) Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person–

    `(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
    `(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or fined in accordance with this title, or both if–
    • `(i) death results from the acts committed in violation of this paragraph; or
    • `(ii) the acts committed in violation of this paragraph include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

`(2)(A) Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability of any person–

    `(i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
    `(ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or fined in accordance with this title, or both, if–
    • `(I) death results from the acts committed in violation of this paragraph; or
    • `(II) the acts committed in violation of this paragraph include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

`(B) For purposes of subparagraph (A), the circumstances described in this subparagraph are that–

    `(i) in connection with the offense, the defendant or the victim travels in interstate or foreign commerce, uses a facility or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce, or engages in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or
    `(ii) the offense is in or affects interstate or foreign commerce.’.

Focus on the Family won’t quote from the proposed bill itself. Instead, they make stuff up by saying things like this:

“We oppose hate-crimes laws because they do not equally protect all Americans as the U.S. Constitution demands,” said Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family Action.

Wrong. The proposed legislation protect all Americans, just as the U.S. Constitution demands. It protects everyone regardless of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. That includes white people, evangelical protestants, men, straight people, and able-bodied people. They are protected against violent bias-motivated crimes as well. The FBI reported that in 2005 there were 935 anti-white incidents (including one murder or manslaughter), 58 anti-Protestant incidents, and 23 anti-heterosexual incidents.

And these incidents are all either violent crimes or property crimes. Name-calling and letters to the editor aren’t crimes and aren’t counted. As I noted in Federal Hate Crime Statistics: Why the Numbers Don’t Add Up, there are many reasons to believe that these numbers represent an undercount. In fact, the undercount may be quite substantial since most people assume that hate crime laws only protect the minority. But that’s a problem with poor training and law enforcement, not a problem with the law itself.

And hate crimes protects everyone equally in another way: they protect everyone even if they are perceived to be something they are not. In other words, a straight man can be attacked by someone who simply thinks he’s gay. That’s what happened to National Guardsman Matthew Ashcraft two years ago in Newport, Kentucky:

Steven Ard, 38, of Newport, is accused of attacking Matthew Ashcraft on the evening of June 26, following a dispute outside Woolly’s on Monmouth Street. He is charged with assault and faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ashcraft, who is straight, and two gay friends were heading to the nightspot on June 26 when they saw Woolly’s customer Leon Hughes being harassed outside. When Ashcraft intervened, Ard left, then returned with a baseball bat and beat him, Campbell County prosecutors said.

Focus on the Family continues:

“The job of our law-enforcement agencies and courts is to punish crime, not thoughts. We must seek justice for those who are victims of violence, absolutely, but not by passing a law that tramples Americans’ right to free thought.”

Wrong again. Re-read the proposed legislation. It is all about violence: sexual assault, bodily injury, kidnapping, murder. Nothing in the proposed legislation even comes within five miles of “trampling American’s right to free thought”.

And as for Alan Chambers’ objections, we’ve already dealt with his strawman arguments.

Focus on the Family and Exodus both have tried to derail this bill by acting like Chicken Little, crying that our constitutional sky is falling. It isn’t. But Exodus and Focus may end up with egg on their faces.

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