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Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation in Senate Elicits Mixed Reactions

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On July 23, 2009, the Department of Defense authorization bill, which contains the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (bill number S.909), passed in the U.S. Senate.

But while one national organization applauded the passage, another noted the legislation is being used to expand the death penalty.

“Hate is neither a religious nor an American value, and that is why Interfaith Alliance praises the Senate for passing this hate crimes prevention bill,” stated Interfaith Alliance president Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy. “Even as we applaud the Senate, we urge them to get this legislation to President Obama, and we appeal to him to sign it into law without delay. It is long past due, but this can be the moment for a ringing pronouncement of our democracy’s intolerance of hate and the crime it foments.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, however, says the death penalty amendment that was added undermines the purpose of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, “which is to reduce bias and discrimination, by supporting a punishment that has been applied in a notoriously biased and discriminatory way.

“There are few facets of our criminal justice system more deeply flawed than the death penalty,” according to the statement at nclr.org. “It has been repeatedly demonstrated that rather than deterring violence or curbing crime, the death penalty has been used to perpetuate race and class bias.

“This provision (now on the Senate Defense Department spending bill, which is where the hate crimes provisions have been added) can and must be removed in conference committee where differences between House and Senate versions will be worked out.” – by Nancy Ford

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