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    April 28, 2007

    Are hateful sermons hate crimes?

    Posted by: Chris

    Hamilharris It's not been a good week for quality reporting by the Washington Post of gay rights issues.  First "In the Loop" columnist Lois Romano fell for a snow job by the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese about the membership size and strategy of the organization. Then today in the Religion section, reporter Hamil R. Harris completely misses the boat in coverage of the new federal hate crime legislation.

    Under the headline "Conservative Black Pastors Fight Bill on Hate Crimes," Harris reports on a coalition of African-American ministers lobbying black Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to oppose the new bill, called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

    [The ministers] say it would pin the hate crime label on their sermons against homosexuality, which they consider a sin.

    "This bill will offer a status for gays, lesbians and transgender people under the equal protection status that can muzzle the black church," said Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and founder of the High Impact Leader Coalition. "This law can be applied in the way that can keep the church from preaching the Gospel."

    Fair enough to give "Bishop" Jackson (his church is nondenominational) and his allies their say, and Harris does goes on to quote a black pastor who favors the legislation, comparing it to other types of civil rights measures.

    BishopjacksonConspicuously absent from the report, however, is any attempt to test the complaint made by Jackson and the other opponents of the law. The bill's supporters aren't quoted on whether the hate crime bill could, in fact, actually make criminal an anti-gay sermon, and the law's language isn't quoted either.

    Is this what passes muster at the Post these days? Of course, the bill would have absolutely no relationship to anti-gay sermons given by Jackson and his conservative cohorts — unless of course they are exhorting their congregations into violence against gays with a "clear and present danger" of the layfolk acting.

    The hate crime bill does not prohibit any form of speech, from the Gospel or otherwise. It doesn't even prohibit any actions, including violence, that aren't already illegal under existing federal, state or local laws. It only assists in the prosecution of crimes that are motivated by bias and enhances the punishment for those offenses.

    Ironically it is "Bishop" Jackson, not the gays, using the language of violence to describe the debate about our rights. "The gays are aggressive! Gays have called war! Gays are attacking traditional marriage!" Jackson yelled at a press conference last June before Congress debated — and rejected — a constitutional amendment that would block states from marrying gay couples.

    Surely Bishop Jackson, a Williams College grad and Harvard MBA, can read the bill and know what it actually provides. If Harris had been doing his job, Jackson would have been asked whether his real complaint with the law is really fear about being arrested for sermonizing.

    Harris' shoddy report may well be the result of classifying this as a "religion" story, which makes it about "faith" not "laws." And perhaps Harris himself is biased — in a News Channel 8 interview about a story he wrote, Harris started off by saying, "It's a blessing to be here."  And then this gem, unearted by Washington City Paper through a FOIA request for emails to/from D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry. The exchange is actually between Harris and Barry flak Linda Greene:

    From: Hamil Harris
    To: Linda Greene
    Subject: Re: Barry To Hold Press Conference Today
    Date: Jan. 13, 2006, 2:22 p.m.

    Tell Marion

    I am praying for him and you

    These are trying times but God has not changed

    From: Linda Greene
    To: Hamil Harris
    Subject: RE: Barry To Hold Press Conference Today
    Date: Jan. 13, 2006, 2:44 p.m.

    Amen, it’s good to hear from you.…

    Whatever Harris' bias, no editor should have signed off on today's story, when the central claim of the headline goes entirely unchallenged.

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    Comments

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Apr 30, 2007 6:31:19 PM:

      "It only assists in the prosecution of crimes that are motivated by bias and enhances the punishment for those offenses."

      Sounds good in theory.

      But what it basically means is this: had my incident around Halloween ( http://northdallasthirty.blogspot.com/2006/11/requiem-for-halloween.html ) escalated into assault, the investigation, prosecution, and eventual punishment could all have been enhanced simply by telling the court I was a gay male -- versus simply being a white male.

      Sort of like those laws in the South that used to require faster, more-thorough investigations and greater punishment for crimes against whites than against blacks.

    1. Hamil Harris on Apr 30, 2007 8:53:19 PM:

      I learned the hard way that even one's personal email's can be public information. I guess it is against the law to offer a king word to somebody. Does this make a person less of a reporter because of an email. This is a very serious issue that deserves a much bigger story. But it is not fair to offer a critique when you know nothing about how what was written got in the paper. I am sure the dialogue will continue

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