The vote was 237-180. Though the passage was expected, a proposed amendment by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) briefly turned the debate on its head. The bill focuses on "violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim." Smith's amendment would have added "status as a senior citizen who has attained the age of 65 years" and "status as a current or former member of the Armed Forces" to that list.
Republicans had argued that hate crime legislation was unnecessary – violence is already a crime – and potentially harmful to free speech. With Smith's amendment, Republicans started arguing that veterans and seniors need special protection, and Democrats responded that veterans and seniors are already protected under existing law. It was ultimately a sideshow and the amendment was defeated 189-227. (A bit of analysis after the jump)
(I should note that I'm saying Democrats and Republicans too broadly. In the final vote, 25 Republicans voted for the hate crimes bill and 14 Democrats voted against it.)
The rhetoric today was really something to watch. One Democrat compared opposition of the bill to lynching, another seemed to suggest that it should apply to preschool bullying. Republicans claimed that the bill would result in pastors being arrested for preaching that homosexuality is wrong. (Don't miss the Traditional Vales Coalition's "Wanted" posters of Jesus, which claimed Jesus' preaching would have been criminal under the hate crimes bill.) We probably won't find out if that's really true. The White House says a veto is likely.
I still have many questions, though. (1) Why have Christian groups given so much attention to "sexual orientation and gender identity" rather than religion? That is, why the fears over a ban on preaching that homosexual sex is wrong rather than a fear over a ban on preaching that non-Christian faiths are wrong? (2) Is there really any evidence that pastors and religious broadcasters would be charged? Fred Phelps has preached in many states that have hate crime laws (many far broader than this bill) and, to my knowledge, has not been charged under any of them (though he has been arrested under other statutes, like anti-trespassing laws). Likewise, there have been any number of radio broadcasts critical of homosexual sex in jurisdictions with existing hate crimes laws. Have they ever been invoked against speech? I'm not saying I support the bill. I'm just asking what the bill's opponents have other than pointing to incidents in countries that don't have First Amendment protections of speech and religion.
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