ADL testifies for hate crimes bill

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League testified Thursday at the Senate Judiciary Committee in support pf hate-crimes legislation.

ADL Washington counsel Michael Lieberman spoke in support of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Protection Act, which would permit greater federal involvement in investigating hate crimes and expand the federal definition of such crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

"We have no illusions about this legislation," Lieberman testified. "We know that bigotry, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism cannot be legislated out of existence. A new federal law that finally addresses all victims of hate crimes will not eliminate them."

"But federal involvement in select cases where state and local officials cannot or will not act, and expanded federal partnerships with state and local officials will result in more effective response to these crimes," he said.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also submitted testimony.

"Let me be as clear I know how to be: as a rabbi and lawyer who has taught church/state law at the Georgetown University Law Center for 30 years, I can say with conviction that the beliefs or words of any person, clergy or otherwise, will not be prosecuted," Saperstein wrote. "This legislation is concerned with hate crimes. It deals with violent conduct and attempts at bodily injury, not the preaching or sermons of members of the clergy. This is a ‘belt and suspenders’ approach to protecting religious liberty, and should address all reasonable concerns.”

Some opponents have claimed that the legislation would punish clergy who oppose homosexuality; supporters say that charge is untrue.

A similar bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

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