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Agudath backs hate crimes law

An Orthodox group is backing hate crimes legislation. Agudath Israel of America announced this week that it is urging the U.S. Senate to pass a bill endorsed earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives. Current hate crimes law deals only with crimes committed against those carrying out a federally protected act, such as voting. The new law would expand hate crimes to include all criminal acts that single out minorities and vulnerable populations, and expand such populations to include gays, women and the disabled in addition to racial and religious minorities. Christian conservatives have lobbied hard against the bill, saying it would target clerics who preach against homosexuality, although the bill includes free speech protections. Agudath’s endorsement is significant because it undercuts arguments that the bill impinges on free speech, said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, the lead Jewish group backing the bill. “The Agudath endorsement shows speech is not an issue,” Lieberman said. “Now we’ll be able to reach out to a whole bunch of other groups because of Agudath’s credibility. It’s an important recognition of what we’re talking about – violence, not rights. People can differ over gay rights, but this is about intentional violence.”