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Hate Crimes Language Prompts Republicans To Vote Against Defense Bill

FI IMAGE 051909 08Oct09

Inclusion of an expansion of federal hate crimes legislation in a defense authorization bill prompted nearly all House Republicans to vote against the measure.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the chairman of the House Republican Conference, both said before the vote that the inclusion of the measure extending hate crimes protections to homosexuals would lead them to vote against the entire measure.

Federal hate crimes law already adds additional punishment for crimes motivated by race and gender and allows federal law enforcement to assist in investigations or conduct their own in cases where local police don't have the resources or willingness to prosecute them.

"I cannot vote for the Defense authorization bill with this hate crimes legislation attached to it," Boehner said. "This is a radical social policy that is being put on the defense authorization bill, on the backs of our soldiers, because they probably can't pass it on its own."

He added, "It's an abuse of the legislative process. It's an abuse of power. … And it's offensive to me and a lot of my members."

Boehner, speaking to reporters in his weekly press conference, said he thought it was wrong to add further charges to a criminal prosecution based on what the criminal may have been thinking.

Pence cited similar reasoning for his opposition in a speech on the floor of the House.

"It is simply inappropriate to use a defense bill as a vehicle for divisive, liberal social policies, wholly unrelated to our country's national security," he said. "Democrats … are piling liberal social priorities onto the backs of our soldiers."

He added, "This is disturbing, I suspect, to millions of Americans and counterproductive to the legislative process."

Pence also said he viewed the hate crimes provisions as an assault on freedom of speech.

"Some of these thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, such as racism and sexism, and bias against people because of their sexual preferences, I find abhorrent," he said. "I disdain discrimination. I disdain bigotry."

He added, "But these hate crimes provisions … are broad enough to encompass legitimate beliefs, and protecting the rights of freedom of speech and religion must be first and foremost and paramount on the floor of this chamber."

Despite nearly uniform Republican opposition, the Defense bill passed 234 to 188.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was fitting that the measure expanding hate crimes to cover homosexuals should pass within a week of the 11th anniversary of the brutal slaying of Matthew Shepard, for whom the hate crimes legislation was named.

"We want in the same week of that tragic event to call the public's attention once again to people acting upon their hatred in a violent way," she said. "When I came to Congress 22 years ago, hate crime legislation was one of the items on my agenda. Little did I know it would be a generation later."

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