Lawsuit By Michigan Conservative Christian Group Seeks To Overturn Hate Crimes Law

Gary Glenn of the Michigan branch of the American Family Association thinks the federal hate crimes law is trying to promote “thought crimes” and “eradicate religious beliefs opposing the homosexual agenda.”A 6th Circuit Appellate panel in Cincinnati began hearing arguments last week from Glenn and three Michigan ministers, who are suing Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to overturn the expansion of federal hate crimes protections.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was passed by Congress in 2009 as part of that year’s defense authorization bill. It carves out criminal penalties for anyone who attempts to or “willfully causes bodily injury” to a person and “is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim.”

The suit was filed in February of 2010 on behalf of Glenn and Pastors Jim Combs, Rene Ouellette and Levon Yuille by the Thomas More Law Center, and primarily argues that the law is unconstitutional because it “elevates those engaged in certain deviant sexual behaviors to a special, protected class of persons under federal law.” Or as George Orwell put it, the complaint says, creates a special class of people who are “more equal than others.”

In another reference to Orwell, the suit fears that the law promotes “thought crimes,” as it “criminalizes certain ideas, beliefs, and opinions, and the involvement of such ideas, beliefs, and opinions in a crime will make the crime deserving of federal prosecution.”

The suit calls hate crimes prosecutions “inherently divisive,” and adds that the law “is intended to send a government-endorsed message to those persons who oppose the homosexual agenda on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs,” and to “eradicate religious beliefs opposing the homosexual agenda from the marketplace of ideas by demonizing, vilifying, and criminalizing such beliefs as a matter of federal law and policy.”

The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington in September of 2010, who agreed with Attorney General Eric Holder’s argument that “plaintiffs do not allege that they have been prosecuted under the Act, that they have been threatened with such prosecution or that they intend to engage in any conduct prohibited by the Act.”

“The Act does not proscribe speech. It prohibits only violent conduct and includes specific provisions ensuring that it may not be applied to infringe any rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Holder wrote.

“It is entirely speculative that Plaintiff’s conduct would be prosecuted under the Act,” Ludington wrote, according to the Bay City Times, and added that the complaint must be more than a “generalized grievance.”

The mission statement of AFA Michigan is as follows: “This corporation is organized to do all those things necessary to promote the welfare of children by the promulgation of the Judeo-Christian ethic and to do all things necessary to promote, advocate, enhance and preserve the traditional and natural family in our society.”

“Homosexual activists have clearly and openly admitted that they want to see pastors and others who speak out against the homosexual political agenda criminally prosecuted as ‘accessories’ any time a violent crime is committed against an individual who engages in homosexual behavior or cross-dressing,” Glenn wrote on the AFA Michigan site at the time of the initial suit.

“The concern is that simply making a statement on your radio program or from a pulpit could be interpreted at some point in the future as having induced or encouraged someone to commit an act of violence,” Glenn said, Michigan Radio reports.

Glenn, who in 2004 was behind a successful push to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, is currently running for the Republican nomination for Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat.

This suit is just one of many that argues that “religious liberty” is at stake as LGBT rights expand. And, along with the Alliance Defense Fund, the Thomas More Law Center dedicates itself to fighting against “a culture increasingly hostile to Christians and their faith.”