CNN, MSNBC Hail Hate Crime Legislation; Ignore Consequences for Free Speech

After Oct. 28, the federal definition of hate crimes will now include crimes against individuals or groups based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

President Barack Obama will sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Wednesday as part of the 2010 defense authorization bill.

Predictably, cable news networks CNN and MSNBC considered this good news, dressing it up in the language of civil rights. Just as predictably, they failed to consider the chilling effect the legislation could have on traditional religious speech, and other consequences to American liberty. Liberals who love to draw lessons from the practices of other nations, need only look to Great Britain, Sweden and Canada to what hate crime protections for gays has wrought.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said of the bill's passage, “This hate crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.”

But to CNN and MSNBC, the only questions were whether the law goes far enough

CNN Hits from the Left


CNN devoted a nine-minute, 32-second segment on the Oct. 22 “Anderson Cooper 360” to the hate crimes legislation, but allowed only seven seconds to discuss the opposing arguments. A report by Dana Bash, senior congressional correspondent, focused on a hate crime victim. Cooper's “Digging Deeper” portion of the segment featured two gay activists who hit Obama from the left for his lack of action on gay issues.

In introducing the segment, Cooper said, “The measure is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who was murdered 11 years ago. Some critics of the new legislation argue that it goes too far, that it punishes someone for their thoughts. We asked Dana Bash to look at both sides of the issue.” (Wrong: Shepard was a 21-year-old man at the time of his murder.)

In Cooper's world, “looking at both sides” must mean summing up the opposition's arguments against the legislation in one sentence and devoting the rest of the segment to highlighting the need for such legislation – that and criticizing President Obama for not doing enough to promote gay rights.

Bash, CNN's senior congressional correspondent Bash described arguments against hate crime legislation: “Many Republicans object, arguing violent crimes are already illegal and this creates what they call thought crimes.” She continued, “But supporters note this would punish acts, not beliefs, and point to government figures showing crimes against gays and lesbians are on the rise and say federal dollars, attention and penalties this new law would provide are needed.”

Bash's report focused largely on Todd Metrokin, a gay man who was physically attacked due to, he believed, his sexual orientation. “He woke up in the hospital, looking like this; bruises and broken bones, even a shoe mark on his face,” she noted.

Metrokin added, “Somebody had to actually stomp on my face while I was on the ground to achieve that. And that's when it became just so crystal clear to me the kind of hate that requires someone to do that.”

Bash concluded that “gay rights groups praise Democrats for passing what they call the first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” but she also noted that the same groups don't believe Obama has done enough for gay rights. “Privately gay rights activists say the president has a long way to go in tempering anger, that's he's dragging his feet on the rest of their agenda, like reversing the military's 'don't ask, don't tell,” Bash reported.

Dan Savage, a gay activist and sex columnist known for reportedly trying to give conservative leader Gary Bauer a cold by licking the doorknobs in his office, and Corey Johnson, political director of the gay Web site, picked up where Bash's report left off in the “Digging Deeper” discussion that followed her report.

“Hate crimes legislation really doesn't impact the lives of most gays and lesbians in the United States the way not being able to marry impacts the lives of most gays and lesbians in the United States,” stated Savage. “And we want to see action from the Obama administration on their other priorities, these other promises that he made,” he continued. “I don't think that his critics and the gay community should be mollified by this achievement.”

Johnson, for his part, claimed Obama has not “shown himself to be a fierce advocate” for the gay community.” He explained, “The gay community wants a strong, powerful statement on the [marriage] questions in Maine and Washington. And we wanted a 'don't ask, don't tell' and Defense of Marriage Act as well in a public forum telling the Congress to act on it so it's a priority.”

“The president needs, just like he's making with health care and climate change a priority in speaking of it, he should do the same thing on civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans,” Johnson concluded.

Savage portrayed the bill as, “All it allows is for prosecutors and the federal government to take into account intent. Just like when a cross is burned on the lawn of an African-American couple – it's a crime against the African-American community generally. That should be taken into account.” He continued, “This adding gays and lesbians to hate crimes legislation – all it does is allow those sorts of malicious intent to be taken into account. And we're being added.”

Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, host of  “The Rachel Maddow Show” and an out lesbian, labeled the Senate's passage of expanded hate crime legislation a “holy mackerel” story in her Oct. 22 broadcast.

Maddow noted that the law's was named for “Matthew Shepard who was tortured and murdered 10 years ago because he was gay.” She also failed to examine the broader issues behind Republican opposition to the law, and simply quoted remarks by unnamed senators. “Of course, not everyone is cheering on this expansion of civil rights. One Republican senator called the vote today, quote, 'deeply troubling.' Another warned that it was a step toward thought crime,” she reported.

Maddow credited the Humans Right Campaign for “lauding” the passage of the measure and quoted its press release that called it “our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Hate Crimes and Free Speech


FRC's Tony Perkins made the connection between hate crimes and thought crimes in his June 2009 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee against the legislation. “'Hate crime' laws put the perpetrator's thoughts and beliefs on trial. Hate crime laws are tantamount to federally prosecuting 'thought crimes,'” his written testimony stated.  

For all that Maddow, Bash and Savage derided the idea that hate crime legislation would turn into “thought crime” legislation, it has happened already in other countries that gave sexual orientation special protection.

Opinions that homosexuality is Biblically immoral have been labeled hate speech in Northern Ireland, Sweden and in Canada. In Northern Ireland and Sweden, those opinions were categorized by gay activists as “inciting violence.”

In Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley, Jr., the Junior Minister of the Democratic Unionist Party, was investigated and censured for a “breach of his ministerial pledge of office” in 2007. His crime? He told a magazine, “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and –without caring about it- harm society. That doesn't mean to say I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”

Martina Anderson, a representative of the opposing Sinn Fein party, demanded that Paisley withdraw his comments and apologize because “they feed into the attitudes that fester and lead to homophobic violence.”

A year later in 2008, gay activist groups in Northern Ireland filed a police complaint against Iris Robinson, another Democratic Unionist Party leader, for her comments regarding a violent attack against a gay man. Robinson condemned the attack, but also sated, “Homosexuality is not natural. My Christian beliefs tell me that it is an abomination that is very clear.”

John O'Doherty, the South Belfast District Policing Partnership member who filed the official complaint, said, “People like Mrs. Robinson need to learn that their comments have consequences.” Robinson was cleared of any wrong-doing earlier this year.

Across the Irish Sea, the 67-year-old wife of a Baptist minister wrote a letter to the Norwich City Council complaining about a gay pride march in the city. As the October 26 Mail Online related the story: “[S]he received a letter warning her she might be guilty of a hate crime and that the matter had been passed to police.”

That letter stated that “The content of your letter has been assessed as potentially being hate related because of the views you expressed towards people of a certain sexual orientation.” It was followed by a visit from two police officers who, according to the Mail, “lectured her about her choice of words before telling her she would not be prosecuted.”

On the Continent, hate crime laws in Sweden caused a Swedish pastor to be tried for “inciting hatred against homosexuals” in a 2003 sermon that preached against the gay lifestyle. A district court convicted Pastor Ake Green in 2004 and that ruling was overturned in early 2005 by a court of appeals. A prosecutor brought Green's case to the Swedish Supreme Court, which acquitted him in 2005.

Closer to home in Canada, an Alberta pastor was convicted of hate speech in 2008 for stating his belief that “homosexuality is immoral and dangerous.” Pastor Stephen Boissoin was fined $7,000, and ordered to apologize and to remain silent about gay issues. Just last month, Boissoin appeared before the Alberta Court of the Queen's Bench to overturn that conviction.

Nor has the United States been immune to such corruptions of justice. In his testimony, Perkins detailed in his testimony the case of 11 Christian protesters who were prosecuted in 2004 under Pennsylvania's “ethnic intimidation” law for protesting at a gay pride event. This provided evidence that “intimidation” has already been interpreted to include “public criticism of homosexuality” and set a dangerous precedent in particular for people who oppose homosexuality because of religious doctrine.

Invoking Horrible Crimes to Push Hate Crime Legislation


Matthew Shepard's life ended tragically and in a way no reasonable person would wish on even his worst enemy. But the constant media devotion to the idea of Shepard as a martyr for gay rights ignores evidence to the contrary and has since created a false urgency to pass hate crimes legislation.

CNN's Dana Bash reported that supporters of the legislation “point to government figures showing crimes against gays and lesbians are on the rise,” which also made hate crimes appear as a pressing concern. The final form of the bill stated, “The incidence of violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of the victim poses a serious national problem.”

Perkins, however, debunked this claim in his Senate testimony. Using information from the FBI Crime Reports, he noted, “In the most recent year for which statistics are available, 2007, the FBI found that 7, 264 hate crime incidents were reported. Racially motivated incidents were 50.8 percent of the total, followed by the religiously motivated incidents at 18.4 percent, then ones motivated by 'sexual orientation' bias at 16.6 percent.”

He continued, “In 2007, there were 90,427 forcible rapes and 16,929 murders reported. Less than one-tenth of one percent of the national crime total for those offenses consisted of 'hate crimes.'” Perkins concluded that these numbers do not “constitute a serious national problem or warrant Federal interference.

In the most widely-known “hate crime,” the murder of Shepard, Perkins pointed out that his “killers were convicted and sentenced to double life sentences without parole even in the absence of any 'hate crime' law.”

And even Shepard murder, horrific as it was, may not have been a result of pure homophobia.

ABC's “20/20” investigated the Shepard case in 2004. The investigation shed light on other factors surrounding Shepard's death. His killers told ABC his sexuality had little to do with his murder, but that it was a drug-fueled robbery that went way too far.

Anchor Elizabeth Vargas reported, “Just hours after Matthew was discovered at the fence, and before anyone knew who had beaten him, Walt Boulden and Alex Trout, friends of Shepard, began spreading the word that Matthew may have been attacked because he was gay.”

Cal Rerucha, the prosecutor in the case, confirmed Vargas' statement. “They were calling the county's attorney office. They were calling the media and indicating, 'Matthew Shepard is gay, and we don't want the fact that he is gay to go unnoticed.”

Rerucha also told Vargas that he didn't think there was proof that this was a hate crime, and that “that was something they [Shepard's friends] had decided.”

But in their celebrations, MSNBC and CNN ignored such facts about hate crimes in general and the specific one the legislation is named for.

Nobody should ever be physically attacked or threatened for their race or religious beliefs or gender or sexual orientation. Or, in fact, for any other reason – a violent crime is a violent crime punishable by law, whatever it's underlying motivation. But for CNN and MSNBC to ignore the important issue of free speech in favor of hailing a law that elevates certain demographics above others is irresponsible and poor journalism.