CNN's Feyerick advances charge that hate crimes bill could ban speech

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

CNN's Deborah Feyerick reported the charge from "some lawmakers and religious groups" that the hate crimes bill "could be used to criminalize conservative speech on abortion or homosexuality." But she did not note that the bill specifically states, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs."

During the June 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, correspondent Deborah Feyerick reported that "[s]ome lawmakers and religious groups are concerned" that a hate crimes bill Attorney General Eric Holder is "pushing" "could be used to criminalize conservative speech on abortion or homosexuality." But Feyerick did not note that, as Holder made clear, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act specifically states: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs" The bill also states: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities ... including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration." Furthermore, while Feyerick noted that Attorney General Eric Holder was "pushing" for passage of the bill, she did not note that in testimony that day, Holder specifically disputed the assertion that the bill could "criminalize ... speech."

In prepared testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee's June 25 hearing on the bill, Holder stated:

Some have expressed concern that this bill could possibly infringe on First Amendment rights. The Department has studied the bill and we are confident that nothing in it would criminalize any expressive conduct or association. Section 249 could be used only to investigate or prosecute discriminatory acts of violence causing bodily injury (or attempts to commit such violent acts) and thus could never be used to investigate or prosecute mere association or expressions of beliefs, no matter how offensive those beliefs might be. Simply put, bias-motivated violence is not protected speech.

Similarly, when the bill was introduced in the Senate, one of the bill's 44 co-sponsors, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), stated:

LEAHY: [I]t does not target pure speech, however offensive or disagreeable. The Constitution does not permit us in Congress to prohibit the expression of an idea simply because we disagree with it. To paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Constitution protects not only freedom for the thought and expression we agree with, but freedom for the thought that we hate. I am devoted to that principle, and I am confident that this bill does not contradict it.

From Section 10 of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as introduced in the Senate:

(2) VIOLENT ACTS- This Act applies to violent acts motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of a victim.

(3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.

(4) FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

From the June 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

FEYERICK: Attorney General Eric Holder's pushing for a new hate crimes law, allowing the federal government to prosecute violence based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability. It would also allow the federal government to help state and local authorities prosecute hate crimes. It's already a federal crime to attack someone because of their race, creed, or color. Some lawmakers and religious groups are concerned the law could be used to criminalize conservative speech on abortion or homosexuality -- Wolf.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBT
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Deborah Feyerick
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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