This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 30, 2009 - Two of Missouri's members of Congress -- Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Roy Blunt, R-Strafford -- offer prime examples of the passionate opposing views regarding the hate-crime bill approved this week by the U.S. House.
Clay cosponsored the measure, which passed 249 – 175. He says it simply extends existing hate-crime protections to victims of crimes "motivated by gender, sexual orientation and disability."
But Blunt, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri in 2010, says the bill could lead to prosecution of pastors who make comments in the pulpit against homosexuality. He said it "undermines our nation’s constitutional rights of equal protection and religious freedom."
Here's the full statements by both congressmen.
"This bill is a powerful statement that hate has no place in America. To suggest that it would somehow infringe on freedom of speech or freedom of religion is absurd. Our bill brings existing Federal hate crimes law into the 21st century by broadening it to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation and disability. Existing federal law only covers crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, or national origin.
"This bill also allows the Federal Government to provide assistance to state and local law enforcement officials to investigate and streamline prosecution of hate crimes. In my early public career as a state legislator, one of my proudest achievements was writing and passing a tough hate crimes bill in Missouri. Today, I am even more proud to see that protection affirmed at the Federal level for all Americans."
“This legislation endangers our most basic rights as Americans by threatening criminal investigations based on beliefs instead of actions. Regardless of motive, a crime is a crime and is currently prosecuted without bias or partiality. All that would change should this bill become law. This bill not only violates the idea that all lives are created equal, it violates two Constitutional amendments by mandating a federal system of legal inequity based on nothing more than race, religion and thoughts.”
Meanwhile, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay also is jumping into the debate. Slay, who has acknowledged that he has relatives who are gay, is sharply critical of Blunt's stance.
On his blog Thursday, the mayor said:
"The proposed law makes it explicit that it should not be interpreted to restrict people’s freedom of speech, which should – but does not – allay the concerns of its opponents. It is no secret that Congressman Blunt is planning to run for the US Senate in 2010. Such a campaign would move him to a stage much larger than his current congressional district. It is important that he understands a little more about the issues and concerns of the highly diverse group of constituents he hopes to represent."