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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Crime to Denounce Homosexuality?

Q: Would the "hate crimes" bill make it a crime to denounce homosexuality from the pulpit and give legal protection to pedophiles?

A: No on both counts. The First Amendment is still operative, and pedophiles would get no breaks under this bill.


What’s the skinny on this seemingly over-the-top letter?

Don’t allow President Obama to remove America’s most basic freedoms Contact Congress today about proposed "hate crimes" legislation – before it’s too late!

April 20, 2009 Dear xxxxx, America’s most basic freedoms of speech, conscience and the free exercise of religion are under attack and the time to act is now. If President Obama succeeds with his priority of passing the Hate Crimes law, H.R. 1913 – the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, it could lead to the criminalization of the Biblical view of homosexuality in sermons and elsewhere. An offended homosexual could accuse a pastor, Sunday School teacher of broadcaster of causing emotional injury simply by expressing the Biblical view that homosexuality is sinful. H.R. 1913 is one more step in the campaign to legitimize homosexuality in our culture by treating it as a protected class along with race, gender, and religion. The long term goal is to create one more platform from which to eradicate wrong thinking about homosexuality. H.R. 1913 will undoubtedly pave the way to legislation that will make thinking Biblically about homosexuality a "hate crime." We believe prosecutors and anti-Christian groups will use loop holes in the proposed legislation to muzzle the church from speaking out on Biblical standards of morality which are shared by most Americans. Unnecessary lawsuits will bring a chilling effect to the free speech and religious liberty of our churches and of our members. Laws already exist in all 50 states to punish violent crime, making this legislation unnecessary, unfair, indefinable, un-American and constitutionally suspect. Laws in civilized nations have always been designed to punish conduct, not thought. H.R. 1913 is not designed to aid in crime fighting. Punishing wrong beliefs about homosexuality is the sole aim of H.R. 1913 – the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Take Action! Contact your members of Congress today. Ask him or her to oppose H.R. 1913 – the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, or any other federal "hate crimes" bill that could lay the groundwork for censorship of America’s most basic freedoms of speech, conscience and religion. Please forward this alert to all of your friends and family members. Thank you for caring enough to get involved. If you feel our efforts are worthy of support, would you consider making a small tax-deductible contribution to help us continue? Sincerely, Don Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman American Family Association

——- Could you do a FactCheck response????

Congress is set to give legally protected status to 30 sexual orientations, including incest. Because of pressure from homosexual groups, congress has refused to define what is meant by sexual orientation in H.R. 1913, the "Hate Crimes" bill. This means that the 30 different sexual orientations will be federally protected classes.


We’ve received a number of questions about the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 that passed in the House on April 29 by a vote of 249 to 175, and its companion bill awaiting committee action in the Senate. Most of them focus on the impact of the bill as alleged by groups like the Traditional Values Coalition on its Web site and the American Family Association on its site and in e-mail alerts warning supporters about what’s in store if the bill becomes law.

The queries mainly concern two claims made by these groups and others: that the bill would force priests and other religious figures to muzzle themselves rather than repeat or discuss any sections of the Bible that may be critical of homosexuality, and that the bill would extend special legal protection to pedophilia, incest and certain other behaviors that are either illegal or widely considered abnormal.

Several members of Congress have repeated similar assertions. In an April 29 speech on the floor of the House, Republican Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said he feared the legislation “could have a chilling effect on the religious expression and religious freedom of millions of Americans.” Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, at an April 28 press conference, said, “When you look at sexual orientation and you examine the diagnostic statistics manual that sets out all of the medical and psychological conditions and the different names, there are about 30 different types of sexual orientations, and they can include exhibitionism and voyeurism or things that are so offensive such as pedophilia,” all of which, Gohmert said, could be covered under the bill.

In reality, there’s nothing in the bill that says pastors must zip their lips rather than denounce homosexuality, nor does it cover pedophiles, voyeurs, exhibitionists and dozens of other behaviors.

A little background: “Hate crimes” are crimes motivated by certain kinds of bias. They are defined in the bill, as they are defined in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, as any crimes “in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” That law ordered new sentencing guidelines for those who commit hate crimes. (A defendant who burns someone’s house down because the target individual is black, Congress was saying in the ‘94 law, deserves more time behind bars than one who starts a fire because he likes to see big things burn.)

The bill pending in the Senate, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as the one that passed the House, would expand the existing federal hate crimes statute (which dates from 1968 and addresses crimes motivated by race, color, religion or national origin) by adding to its coverage certain violent crimes motivated by an individual’s gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and removing a requirement that the victim be engaged in specified federally protected activity (such as voting) at the time of the crime. It would also allow the Justice Department to provide technical, forensic or prosecutorial assistance to state, local or tribal law enforcement agencies in connection with a violent felony that is also a hate crime, and possibly financial assistance as well. And the bill would allow federal authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crimes if state or local agencies are unable or unwilling to do so.

Free-Spoken Sermons

What the bill would not do is prohibit anyone’s pastor, rabbi or imam from speaking disapprovingly about homosexuality. For one thing, last time we checked, the First Amendment still said that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech or free exercise of religion. Courts take this extremely seriously, even when parties other than Congress are writing the rules. Colleges, for instance, that have adopted campus speech codes in trying to combat discrimination and harassment have seen their decrees shredded by the judiciary.

Just to make sure nobody’s words are suppressed, however, the bill addresses the issue directly with two "Rules of Construction" to make things crystal clear to anyone trying to interpret the legislation:

S. 909, introduced April 28, 2009: (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.

Of course, as the language above notes, the First Amendment doesn’t protect all speech in every circumstance. This might be a good time to recall Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court in the 1919 case Schenck v. United States. Free speech, while a core American value, doesn’t mean one can "falsely shout fire in a theater" and thereby cause a stampede, Holmes wrote. "The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger."

The upshot here: Speaking disapprovingly of homosexuals from the pulpit would be one thing; encouraging one’s congregation to form a lynching posse Saturday at 4 p.m. at the water tower is quite another.

The Definition of "False"

The second e-mail we’ve reprinted above asserts that Congress "has refused to define what is meant by sexual orientation" in the bill. Thus, it says, "30 different sexual orientations will be federally protected classes," including incest. The Traditional Values Coalition did a "report" on these alleged orientations, basing one of its "Action Alerts" on it. But this claim rests both on bad logic and a false statement.

It’s true that the bill’s authors have not defined "sexual orientation" in its text, but this isn’t the first legislation to use the term without stating its meaning. Judges typically use the "plain meaning" of a term when it isn’t defined in a law. And the plain meaning of "sexual orientation" does not include incest or pedophilia.

To determine "plain meaning," judges often do what most of us might do: Look in the dictionary. All five definitions of sexual orientation listed in Dictionary.com describe it more or less the same way. The 2002 edition of the American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, for instance, defines it as: "The direction of one’s sexual interest toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes, especially a direction seen to be dictated by physiologic rather than sociologic forces. Replaces sexual preference in most contemporary uses." The 2002 Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary says it is "the inclination of an individual with respect to heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual behavior."

And according to the American Psychological Association: "Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction toward others. … Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality."

Sometimes judges refer to other statutes when they’re seeking clarity. Here they could look to the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which contains this definition: "As used in this section, the term ‘sexual orientation’ means consensual homosexuality or heterosexuality."
Furthermore, the Traditional Values Coalition makes a false claim when it says that 30 different "sexual orientations" – including pedophilia, incest and exhibitionism as well as homosexuality and heterosexuality – are contained in the American Psychiatric Association’s respected reference work, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). This is pure bunk. In its chapter headed "Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders," DSM-IV explicitly states that sexual orientation "refers to erotic attraction to males, females or both." It does not include any of the paraphilias (such as pedophilia). Nor is homosexuality (or heterosexuality, for that matter) listed as a sexual disorder in the book.

Opponents of the proposed legislation can critique it in any way they please, of course. But they’d do better to sweep aside the myths perpetrated by some social conservative groups and stick to the facts.

–Viveca Novak


H.R. 1913. Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 111th Congress, accessed on govtrack.us.

S. 909. Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 111th Congress, accessed on govtrack.us.

Hudson, David L., Jr. "Hate Speech and Campus Speech Codes." firstamendmentcenter.org, accessed 14 May 2009.

U.S. Supreme Court. "Schenck v. U.S." 249 U.S. 47.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR, Fourth Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing Inc., June 2000, p. 535.

103rd Congress. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Public Law 103-322.

"Pence Denounces Hate Crimes Bill as Roadblock to Religious Freedom." Web site of Rep. Mike Pence, accessed 14 May 2009.

Bandy, Steve. “Gohmert opposes federal hate crimes bill.” Marshall News Messenger, 29 April 2009.

101st Congress. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, Public Law 101-275.