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What pastors should know about the new Hate Crimes Act.
In October 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation created a firestorm of controversy, with exaggerated and unfounded claims being made on all sides. According to some, pastors who preach against homosexuality from the pulpit, or even quote passages of the Bible pertaining to homosexuality, will be guilty of a hate crime. Is this fear warranted?

In 1969, Congress enacted a “hate crime” law. Over the years several attempts were made to add sexual orientation to the definition of a “hate crime,” and to criminalize all hate crimes rather than just those directed at persons participating in a government program. All attempts failed until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, which makes it a federal crime to:
  1. Willfully cause bodily injury to another person because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the person; or
  2. Through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempt to cause bodily injury (a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, or disfigurement; physical pain; illness; impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; or any other injury to the body, no matter how temporary) to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of that person.
However, the Act adds that bodily injury “does not include solely emotional or psychological harm to the victim.”
The Act contains the following four explicit protections for religious speech:
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