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OGR Letter to House: Hate Crimes Prevention
5/1/2007
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Members of Congress:

On behalf of The Episcopal Church, we write to urge your strong support for the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.  (LLEHCPA)

The Episcopal Church has long been an advocate of combating hate in our society.  In 2000, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church called on Congress to support hate crimes legislation at every level of government.  No person or group of people should be the target of violence simply because of their disability, gender,  sexuality or perceived sexuality.  It is our sincere hope that passage of this legislation will bring our nation one step closer to eliminating hate violence.

In 2005, the FBI documented 7,163 hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. The LLEHCPA will stream-line the process for the Department of Justice to assist local authorities to investigate and prosecute these cases – and permit federal involvement in cases that occur because of a victim’s gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Existing federal law inadequately addresses the significant national problem of hate crimes. Not only does current law contain obstacles to effective enforcement, but it also does not provide authority to investigate and prosecute bias crimes based on disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. As a matter of conscience we must call for laws to protect all Americans from hate-motivated violence. 

Although we believe that state and local governments should continue to have the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, an expanded federal role is necessary to ensure adequate and equitable response to these divisive crimes. The federal government must have authority to address those important cases in which local authorities are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

The LLEHCPA does not in any way violate the First Amendment protections of offenders. Hate crime laws do not restrict speech. Rather, they target only criminal conduct prompted by prejudice.  Some critics of the LLEHCPA have erroneously asserted that enactment of the measure would prohibit the lawful expression of one’s deeply held religious beliefs. These fears are unfounded. The LLEHCPA does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, preaching or other expressions of religious belief, name-calling, or even expressions of hatred toward any group.  It covers only violent actions that result in death or bodily injury.

The sacred scriptures of many different religious traditions speak with dramatic unanimity against intolerance. If we aspire to be true to the prophetic core of our religions, we cannot condemn hate and then sit idly by while it destroys our communities. We believe that religious institutions and government must work together to create a society in which diverse people are safe as well as free.

We urge you to support the enactment of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2007.

Sincerely,

Maureen Shea
Director

John B. Johnson
Domestic Policy Analyst



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