Despite claims by Christian conservative leaders that it result in jails overcrowded with pastors and other critics of the “homosexual lifestyle,” the Senate yesterday gave final approval to a hate crimes law that's been a top priority for the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups for an embarrassing number of years.
The measure now goes to President Barack Obama, who, unlike his predecessor, is eager to sign it.
The measure extends existing hate crimes statutes to violent crimes committed because of the victims' gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, which is why conservative Christian groups fought furiously against it. Preaching against homosexuality would be turned into a crime, they argued.
But the most conservative Orthodox Jewish group - Agudath Israel of America – this week endorsed the bill, arguing that it would not endanger religious or free speech rights. And nobody ever accused Agudah of being a gay rights group.
The ADL and other groups worked – successfully, this time – to get it attached to a must-pass defense authorization bill. The ADL's Washington counsel, Michael Lieberman, played a leadership role in drafting, promoting and passing the legislation for more than a decade.
Last night the laudatory press releases started coming in, led by the ADL, which called final passage “a landmark achievement in the decades-long effort to combat hate violence – and cause for celebration. This legislation is the most important, comprehensive and inclusive federal hate crime law enacted in the past 40 years.”
Nancy Ratzan, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, said passage “communicates a powerful vision and commitment: our nation is determined to end hate violence. We must not tolerate violence that intimidates, injures, and even kills individual victims, and also terrorizes whole communities.”
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