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Christian Groups Eye Hate Crimes Bill

Leaders appear divided over whether the law would hinder their right to address homosexuality.

Leaders of conservative Christian groups are wringing their hands over pending approval of a federal hate crimes bill, but opinions are divided on whether their fears are justified.

More than a decade since Matthew Shepard, a gay, 21-year-old Wyoming college student, was murdered, Democrats may pass a bill in his name that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally prosecuted hate crimes. The House passed the legislation 249-175 in late April, and the Senate could vote on a nearly identical bill as early as today.

Opponents envision a world where pastors could be arrested for preaching against homosexuality. But supporters say the bill does plenty to protect the freedoms of speech and religion.

The disputes center on a section of the bill that purports to guard constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct, and activities. Protected activities include "the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration," ...

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