Jewish Groups Set To Fight Veto of Hate-Crimes Bill

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 11, 2007, issue of May 11, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Washington - Jewish groups are gearing up to fight the president’s expected veto of a hate crimes bill opposed by Christian conservatives.

The measure, which broadens the authority of the federal government in dealing with hate crimes, is strongly opposed by the Bush administration and by the religious right, at least in part because it expands the definition of hate crimes to include violence motivated by discrimination based on gender or on sexual orientation.

Jewish organizations are playing a leading role in the coalition pushing the bill, with almost all of them — except the Orthodox ones — taking action to promote the passage of the measure. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House floor last week, in a 237-180 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin debating the bill within two weeks.

In past attempts, the hate crimes bill easily gained the support of a significant majority of the Senate. So, supporters of the bill said, they are expecting the major opposition to the measure to come from the White House and from Christian conservative groups.

In a letter to lawmakers, circulated on the day of the House vote, the administration made clear that it would take action to stop the bill, known as H.R. 1592, from becoming law. “If H.R. 1592 were presented to the President, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” the letter stated.

The purpose of the bill, which has been in the works for 12 years, is to allow the Department of Justice to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes and, in certain instances, to take over the entire case.

The measure also broadens the definition of hate crimes to include those crimes motivated by bias based not only on race, religion and national origin but also on gender, sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

As a result, religious conservative groups argue that the measure could be interpreted as giving de facto federal recognition to gays and lesbians and restricting the freedom of speech of religious leaders who take a public stand against homosexuality. One of these groups, the Traditional Values Coalition, put out a flier depicting Jesus in a “wanted” poster for “violations of the proposed hate crime law in his teachings and in his book ‘The Bible.’”

While adding the sexual orientation and gender categories to the bill is widely regarded as the main impediment to getting it approved, the White House is formally stressing other problems it sees with the proposed legislation.

In the letter to Congress, the president’s executive office notes that there is no need for a new federal law, since states already have their own hate crimes legislation. The White House also argues that the bill raises constitutional questions because it federalizes criminal offenses that are under a particular state’s jurisdiction.

Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League and chair of the coalition of 290 organizations supporting the hate crimes bill, rejected these arguments.

“Every major law enforcement organization in the country is backing this bill,” Lieberman said.

According to Lieberman, the main concern was never the constitutional questions. “If we’d drop the gender and sexual orientation issue, it would have passed 10 years ago, but we’re not going to do that,” he said.

According to the ADL official, sexual orientation is the third most common means of motivation for violent hate crimes, behind race and religion.

“People in the Jewish community have a strong memory and good understanding of the impact hate crimes have,” said Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The JCPA mobilized tens of local Jewish groups to contact their congressmen on the issue.

Two Orthodox groups — the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America — have serious concerns about the bill, but they are not taking any action for or against the measure. “We are still studying it,” said Nathan Diament, Washington representative of the Orthodox Union.

Diament did say that the Orthodox groups view as positive a provision added by the House, which makes clear that the bill does not infringe on religious rights. Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel said the group referred the bill to its rabbinical leadership in order for it to decide whether to support it in light of the new provisions that have been added.

In an effort to pressure the president not to use his veto pen to block this legislation, Jewish groups are organizing letters and meetings that aim to stress the importance that the Jewish community sees in passing the bill. Other groups will take similar action: mainstream Christian and other religious organizations, law enforcement agencies and women’s rights advocacy groups.

“We believe that after the president sees the support this bill has in the law enforcement community and with other groups, he will listen and sign the bill,” Lieberman said.

If this mobilization does not manage to convince the White House, supporters of the bill intend to attach the measure to a “must pass” piece of legislation, making it difficult for the president to exercise his veto.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.