House Republican Leader John Boehner made no secret of his objections to a bill expanding hate crime laws to cover sexual orientation. The bill passed in the House and now awaits Senate approval.
In a statement last week, Boehner said: “All violent crimes should be prosecuted
vigorously, no matter what the circumstance. The Democrats’ ‘thought crimes’ legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal and should be defended with equal vigilance.”
The existing law covers race, color, religion and national origin, while the expansion would add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the list.
When asked to clarify his statement, his office told CBS that Boehner “supports existing federal protections (based on race, religion, gender, etc) based on immutable characteristics.”
By emphasizing “immutable characteristics,” Boehner appears to approve the inclusion of characteristics individuals can’t control.
But Northeastern University professor Jack Levin, an expert on hate crimes, says Boehner’s argument doesn’t make sense.
“Especially if he supports the current stand,” Levin said. “Religion is clearly not ascribed. It’s not built into the organism. People can change it at any time and people do. It sounds to me as though the criticism is focused on the addition of gays and lesbians to the list of protected categories at the federal level. That seems to be the problem.”
Boehner’s spokesman also argued that the bill “could eventually invite the prosecution of Americans for their thoughts and religious beliefs, basic provinces protected by the First Amendment.”
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— Theresa Bruskin