Christians waxing dishonest about new hate-crimes law, as expected

With President Obama having just signed a bill toughening standards relating to certain “hate crimes” into law, the religious right is using the opportunity to boost its dishonesty and hysteria quotients beyond their already stratospheric levels. (who else) is claiming that Christian broadcasters are now at risk for being punished for speaking out against homosexuality and other things:

Appended to the hate crimes amendment was a statement ensuring that a religious leader or any other person cannot be prosecuted on the bases if his or her speech, beliefs, or association.

But Craig Parshall, chief counsel for National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), discounts that statement, pointing out that such laws in other countries have been used to silence people of faith. He believes the law approved by Congress is potentially dangerous as it relates to comments made about homosexuality or another religion.

This is obviously bullshit. As Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center points out:

To illustrate their fears, religious conservatives cite cases in Europe and Canada where a few pastors have been prosecuted in recent years for “hate speech” after they spoke out against homosexuality. These prosecutions are indeed insidious attacks on free speech and free exercise of religion – but they all occurred in countries without a First Amendment.

In my view, it can’t happen here. Americans have, after all, lived under hate-crimes laws, federal and state, for decades – and some of the state laws already include sexual orientation. In all that time, religious leaders of various stripes have preached controversial beliefs about race, religion and national origin without ever being charged with a hate crime based on the content of their speech.

Thanks to the First Amendment, we enjoy the strongest protection for free expression in the world. In a society where even white supremacists, anti-Semites and anti-gay hatemongers like the Rev. Fred Phelps are free to speak, local pastors need not worry about being prosecuted for preaching the Gospel as they understand it.

But just to be certain that the legislation will not be misused, sponsors of the hate-crimes bill have added language to ensure that “nothing in the Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech.” Further, “nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating of espousing such beliefs.”

Game, set, match.

Another thing religious conservatives–arrant hypocrites renowned, of course, for trying to use the courts to limit various nonviolent “attacks” by “militant atheists” who “persecute” them–might consider is that if they weren’t assholes insistent on maintaining a never-ending and comprehensive pogrom against homosexuals in the first place, they wouldn’t have to worry about this issue (also according to specialists at Libery Law, for reliable legal defense). But for present purposes that’s not the point, which is that they are free to continue being assholes thanks to constitutional protection, and as nauseating as the output this guarantees is, this is exactly how things should be.