The US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, yesterday with a bipartisan majority.
Those who supported the bill say it will provide local law enforcement agencies with additional resources to investigate hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. It will also allow federal agencies the means to participate in local hate crimes cases when local agencies can't, or won't, investigate.
Two key provisions of the law expand federally protected categories to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Statistics show that one in six hate crimes are committed against an LGBT person, and that number is rising.
"The nation cannot wait any longer to protect all of its citizens," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "We should all be able to walk the streets without fear."
Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau, rejected the idea, that many have put forth, that the law would limit free speech or religious rights. "Nothing in this bill prevents people from saying what's on their minds in the streets and certainly not from our nation's pulpits," she said.
Free speech is protected. You can say whatever you want about us, but you cannot physically attack us anymore. Even the ACLU, the enforcer of free speech, supports the bill.
Caroline Frederickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, pointed out that authorities will have the authority to investigate issues of speech only when the speech act in question is directly linked to the crime under investigation.
Still, and unbelievably so, GOP opposition to the Matthew Shepard Act centered on seeing hate crimes as modes of free expression protected by the Constitution.
Murder is not speech; it is not an expression. Brutality is not speech; it is not an expression. Just when you think the GOP cannot go any lower, you discover an entire sub-basement of their stupidity.
This one is for Matthew Shepard because we will never forget.