In the run-up to the contest over the Federal Marriage Amendment last month, few journalists paid much attention to another bill making its way through the Senate. Drawing attention to a spate of violence directed primarily at Muslims, Sen. Ted Kennedyone of the bill's sponsorscalled for severer penalties against those committing crimes for religious reasons. Kennedy noted such crimes included "murders, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, and assaults." The measure, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2005 Defense authorization bill, passed on June 15 with a vote of 65-33.
Conservatives immediately condemned the legislation. The Republican Study Committee noted that the bill would require prosecutors to inquire into "an offender's overall philosophy or biases." The committee states, "The Kennedy bill makes philosophy, politics, biases, and general viewpoints the subject of almost every violent crime." Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America warned that such measures undermined "the principles of free speech and equal protection under law. Any senator who voted for this is setting up our children and grandchildren for persecution as activist courts rule that biblical morality is 'bigotry.'"
Curiously, a similar bill is making its way through the British Parliament under the direction of Home Secretary David Blunkett. The secretary wants to extend current legislation prosecuting crimes incited by racial prejudice to cover religious prejudice as well. To those worried it will restrict free speech, Blunkett argues, "The issue is not whether you have an argument or discussion or whether you are criticizing someone's religion. It's whether you incite hatred on the basis of it."
Let's hope Blunkett is being ...