Appeals Court: Hate Crimes Act Doesn’t Suppress Anti-Gay Speech

An appeals court has tossed out a lawsuit from three Michigan pastors challenging the constitutionality of the Hate Crimes Act.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that the Christian ministers had not established standing to challenge the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which offers harsher punishments for individuals who commit violent acts on individuals due to their sexual orientation.

The court upheld a previous ruling that found the law constitutional. Opponents of the law argued the legislation outlawed “thought crimes” and was meant to “eradicate religious beliefs opposing the homosexual agenda.” The suit was first filed in February 2010 by the conservative Thomas More Law Center, a few months after President Barack Obama signed the law in October 2009. It cited Bible passages and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, claiming the law treated certain individuals “more equal than others.”But the appeals court found that the plaintiffs had “not alleged any actual intent” to cause bodily injury to any gay individuals, pointing out that the pastors explicitly denounced “crimes of violence perpetrated against innocent individuals.”

The Hate Crimes Act, the appeals court ruled, “does not prohibit Plaintiffs’ proposed course of hateful speech” and said they “can’t quite pinpoint what it is they want to say that could subject them to prosecution under the Hate Crimes Act.” [Editor’s note: an updated version of the opinion removes the word “hateful” from the opinion, but a cached version makes clear that the original opinion included the word “hateful.”)

Even if they quoted Leviticus 20:13, which called for men who have sex with one another to be put to death, “they have not alleged any intention to do more than merely quote it,” which wouldn’t be unlawful under the Hate Crimes Act, the appeals court ruled.

“If the Hate Crimes Act prohibits only willfully causing bodily injury and Plaintiffs are not planning to willfully injure anybody, then what is their complaint? Plaintiffs answer that they fear wrongful prosecution and conviction under the Act. Not only is that fear misplaced, it’s inadequate to generate a case or controversy the federal courts can hear,” the appeals court ruled.

The full opinion is embedded below.

Hate Crimes

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