President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law this afternoon in the East Room of the White House. The law, which secured passage by being attached to a military spending bill, is being flagged by Christians as a possible vehicle for preventing them from teaching against homosexuality.
Named after two victims of purported hate crimes, the bill allows federal authorities to prosecute violence based on gender, perceived or actual sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Defenders of the bill say that it doesn’t target Christian beliefs because it deals with actions only and not words, but many Christians, such as Dr. Gary L. Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission say that “where hate crime laws have been enacted, it is Christians, specifically conservative Christians who hold to the historic Christian faith and it's values, that become the object of institutionalized, governmental hate."
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, claimed that the hate crimes provision “is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality.”
As he signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 to which the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was attached, President Obama said, “So today I'm pleased to say that we have proved that change is possible. It may not come quickly, or all at once, but if you push hard enough, it does come eventually.”
President Obama invoked the memory of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was a supporter of the act in its early stages.
The president also recounted how he promised Judy Shepard, Mathew Shepard’s mother, that this day would come. “After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we've passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are,” he proudly concluded.
The motive behind Matthew Shepard's brutal murder remains unknown, with some claiming that he was murdered for being a homosexual and others that it was a drug deal gone bad.