Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Act Signed after Decade-Long Battle

And good news today: President Obama signed the hate crimes bill making it a federal hate crime to assault people based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. This bill caps more than a decade of debate about whether sexual orientation ought to be added to already existing categories in laws criminalizing violence towards targeted minorities. It comes 11 years after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

And as I celebrate this progressive move of the federal government to defend human rights, I grieve--I'm ashamed, to be frank--that the Catholic right are up in arms at the moment about the purported support of the United States Catholic Bishops' Conference for an inquiry into hate speech in the media.

The USCCB's Department of Communications belongs to the So We Might See Coalition, which includes the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, the National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, Presbyterian News Service, and the Communications Services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

So We Might See has sent a letter to the FCC asking it to look into possible connections between hate speech in the media and violent crimes. The coalition is particularly concerned about spikes in violence against Hispanic immigrants that seem to coincide with anti-immigration diatribes on right-wing talk shows.

Archbishop Chaput's Catholic News Agency has been concerned that the USCCB might support this attempt to curb hate speech. In response to CNA's inquiries, Helen Osman, Secretary of the USCCB’s Department of Communications, assures CNA that the USCCB did not join in the petition with other So We Might See constituents.

Instead, the USCCB has sent a separate letter to the FCC, noting that there are “difficult constitutional and regulatory questions” involved in attempts to curb hate speech. These include questions about whether expressions of religious teachings could be interpreted as hate speech--e.g., might Catholic teachings on homosexuality be deemed hate speech by advocates of gay rights?

If I'm reading this discussion correctly, it appears that the United Church of Christ, the National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are all concerned about violent effects of hate speech in the media.

Catholics, not so much. To our great discredit.