House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reportedly announced that the hate crimes legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives was “an important vote of conscience, of a statement of what America is, a society that understands that we accept differences.” I do believe he’s right.
If this hate crimes legislation passes—and, thankfully, the President has promised a veto—but if it passes, then we will see, as Hoyer predicted, that America is not a society that understands that we accept differences. Indeed, when one looks at the results of hate crimes legislation, he can see clearly that not all Americans accept our differences.
When it comes to accepting differences, hate crimes legislation has a poor track record. The infamous Philadelphia Outfest case from 2004 comes immediately to mind. In that case Arlene Elshinnawy (a grandmother in her 70’s) and 10 others were arrested for protesting at an openly gay festival. Their attempts to preach and protest resulted in arrests and felony charges. Michael Marcavage, one of the 11 arrested, was charged with felony offenses of ethnic intimidation under Philadelphia’s hate crimes legislation.
The 11 were arrested and charged. Five of the 11 were kept in custody and charged with felonies. Months later (in February 2005) the charges were dropped when a judge ruled there was no basis for any of the allegations made in the arrest. In dismissing the charges, Judge Pamela Dembe said, “We are one of the very few countries that protects unpopular speech and that means that Nazis can March in Skokie, Ill. … That means that the Ku Klux Klan can march where they wish to. We cannot stifle speech because we don’t want to hear it, or we don’t want to hear it now.”
Yet, the truth remains that in the Philadelphia case, as well as in many other cases around the world where such legislation is employed, hate crime legislation is used to silence freedoms once cherished, especially the freedom of Christian speech and action. In Canada, a Christian commissioner faced a $5,000 fine for refusing to preside over a same-sex marriage ceremony. In Sweden, Pastor Ake Green spent 30 days in jail because of his “hate” speech against homosexual practices. In Australia, two pastors were convicted of hate crimes because they taught that Islam is a violent religion.
Christians have the obligation to make sure our speech is always with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt. For some, salt and grace will be labeled “hate.” We Christians shall continue to speak the truth in love, while grieving that others call love hate.