Thursday, August 19, 2004

CA Hate Crimes Law 'Dangerous' For Christians

http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/8/afa/182004a.asp

California's Hate Crimes Expansion Potentially 'Dangerous' for Christians, Activists Say
Pending Legislation Would Punish Those Who Speak Out Against Homosexuality
By Jody BrownAugust 18, 2004

(AgapePress) - The "thought police" may soon be roaming the corridors of businesses and schools in California, in search of people who have been accused of uttering "hate speech" toward homosexuals. Several Christian activists in the Golden State are concerned that that indeed could be the scenario if Senate Bill 1234 becomes law.
The intent of SB 1234 is to redefine what constitutes a "hate crime" in California. In general, hate crimes laws create different classes of victims, seeking greater punishments for crimes committed against one class of people -- such as homosexuals -- over other victims. Under this legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their deeply held beliefs, whether political or religious, presents an "intimidating" threat that is punishable.
A section of the proposed law reads as follows:
Speech alone is not sufficient to support an action brought [under this law] except upon a showing that the speech itself threatens violence against a specific person or group of persons; and the person or group of persons against whom the threat is directed reasonably fears that, because of the speech, violence will be committed against them or their property and that the person threatening violence had the apparent ability to carry out the threat.
Penalties for violating SB 1234 include criminal prosecution and fines of $25,000.
Sponsored by lesbian State Senator Sheila Kuehl, SB 1234 has already been passed by the Senate and could be voted on by the Assembly as soon as today (Wednesday). Opponents of the bill are not optimistic about the Assembly vote and expect the measure to move along to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for his signature before the end of the month.
Punishing Perceived ThreatsThose critics maintain that crimes against persons should be punishable, but that unlawful conduct -- not attitudes -- should be punished. The Campaign for California Families says Keuhl's legislation, in redefining what constitutes hate crimes, "borders on stifling free speech and infringing upon peaceful, conscientious conduct."
CCF continues, describing the bill as "dangerous to our society" and vulnerable to being applied subjectively and inequitably. "It is wrong to award proponents of certain beliefs unprecedented power to criminalize their opponents' free speech and peaceful conduct," CCF states. "This bill is overly-broad and can injure innocent persons who are expressing political speech, not committing assault or violence of any kind."
Hate crimes law, CCF says, are the first step toward "thought police" because they punish people's points of views instead of focusing on people's conduct.
California pro-family activist James Hartline calls SB 1234 a "frightening rewrite" of current civil rights laws that is masquerading as a protection measure. Christians, he says, should be particularly concerned.
"This bill would censor all Californians from their constitutional right to free speech when articulating what the Bible states regarding the sinful nature of homosexuality," he says, citing several scenarios. He contends the bill would prevent pastors from speaking out against homosexuality from the pulpit and would allow law enforcement to enter a church and arrest a pastor for doing so.
"[And] any person who says they are 'fearful' because someone has said homosexuality is wrong could have the speaker arrested and jailed," Hartline says. "This is the worst bill ever put before the California legislature -- and that's saying a lot. This evil, anti-Christian propaganda must be defeated."
Hartline is calling for a massive e-mail and telephone campaign to Governor Schwarzenegger, urging him to veto the bill when it reaches his desk.
Like CCF and Hartline, the California Family Council agrees SB 1234 is intended to restrict the rights of individuals to speak out against homosexuality. The Riverside-based group describes the measure as a "dangerous" bill because it expands special protections to certain groups of people, and also questions the need for hate-crimes legislation.
The California Family Council asks: "Why are crimes against certain people or classes of people more deserving of stronger punishment than the same crimes committed against persons or classes of persons that do not fit into the designated 'hate-victim' list?" The group wonders if that makes their lives less important -- or if that amounts to legal discrimination.

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