by Joel Wendland
In preparing for an article on the passage of landmark hate crimes prevention legislation, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, in the House yesterday, I watched some of the debate on the floor of that august body. But I had to turn it off, it was too infuriating. The rationale put forward by the GOP leaders for their opposition to the bill was that hate crimes are protected by Constitutional provisions of free speech.
If you pass this bill, one GOP member after another repeated, people who urge anti-gay hate or violence against gay people (or for other legally protected categories) will be "chilled" into silence. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) led the GOP side of the debate, and again and again she defended the right of people to hate and to commit violent acts against LGBT people.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert even read St. Paul's proscription against homosexuality into the record – notably ignoring Christ's commandment to love even your enemies – arguing that any Christian who believes in the Bible would be subject to prosecution under the law because of that passage. Gohmert ignored the fact that the Old Testament records God's commandment to the Israelites to commit genocide against the people living in Canaan and seems to have not noticed that no one has been prosecuted for war crimes because they may believe in the justice of that act (or of stoning of adulterous women or segregating women during their menstrual cycle etc.)
The Republicans' new found civil libertarian streak appears out of nowhere, however, suggesting deep hypocrisy on the matter. Where was their impassioned defense of the free speech rights of the Dixie Chicks, for example, when their rather mild 2003 criticism of George W. Bush earned them death threats and CD burning parties by some in Republican and right-wing circles. Silence from free speech civil libertarians like Reps. Foxx and Gohmert when a radio station ordered its DJs to not play Dixie Chicks song because of their comment.
Over and over again Republican pundits and politicians told the Dixie Chicks to "shut up and sing."
Others who offered criticisms of Bush were repeatedly accused of treason or lack of patriotism. When former Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress and the country that criticisms of the administration and dissent from its policy amounted to aiding terrorism, not a peep from Republican stalwarts now defending the rights of hatemongers to express with actions their hatred of people they don't like.
Apparently, for Republicans, free speech is reserved for those who hate and commit violent acts motivated by hate.
It would be good to see civil rights and civil liberties groups spend about, I don't know, $1 million in Foxx's district to defeat her in the 2010 election. I bet it could be done.