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  • « Love thy neighbor…unless he's gay | Main | Shepard bill closer to being a law »

    May 01, 2007

    Hamil Harris responds…

    Posted by: Chris

    Hamilharristhumb Washington Post reporter Hamil Harris has responded to my post this weekend on his story about pending federal hate crime legislation. I took Harris to task for reporting a claim by a consortium of black pastors that the Matthew Shepard Act could be used to throw ministers in jail for preaching homosexuality is a sin. Harris quoted black pastors and others who oppose and support the bill, but never tested the central claim that the hate crime law could criminalize hate speech, much less less speech from a pulpit.

    Because the story so failed to question the ministers' claims, I did a bit of digging on Harris the reporter, and offered in my post a couple of curious examples where he introduced his own religious faith into professional situations — including an email to Marion Barry's press flak that was uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by Washington City Paper. It raised in my own mind questions about Harris' objectivity or possible sympathy to the complaining black pastors.

    In response to my post, Harris wrote:

    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.

    Anyone who's spent time as a reporter or an editor knows the limitations that deadline and available space can have on a story, so I grant Harris probably lacked the room to tell the story properly. But even a cursory mention that the bill's supporters challenge the ministers claim would have been welcome. 

    I'm also pleased to see that he believes the issue deserves "a much bigger story." I hope he writes it soon; the issue certainly remains "in play." In a press release today, the Human Rights Campaign challenged the premise of the black pastors' complaint:

    One of the most frequently promoted lies by the opposition is that the hate crimes law will make anti-gay bigots criminally liable for their hate speech.  While it is certainly un-American and un-Christian to embrace a message of hate, the religious right has nothing to fear from the hate crimes bill as it applies only to acts of violence.  Nothing in this act would prohibit the lawful expression of one's deeply held religious beliefs.

    "It's no surprise the religious right is so concerned about hate speech - for them hate appears to be a cottage industry," [said Joe Solmonese, HRC president,]  "But they have nothing to fear.  Even after the hate crimes legislation is passed, the religious right will continue to have the federally protected right to preach hatred."

    You won't catch me saying this very often, but well said, Joe.

    Of course no one expects Harris or any other journalist to simply accept HRC's defense of the bill, any more than the pastors' claim should have gone unchallenged. But with a House vote on the bill looming on Thursday, the time is now for more complete coverage.



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    1. DaveinPA on May 1, 2007 10:05:23 PM:

      Maybe it's me, but if someone in the crowd you are preaching to about homosexuality being a sin goes out and commits a hate crime,I'm thinking you either A) need to find a new occupation or B)learn how to better phrase your sermons. Is no one else finding it ironic that christian pastors are worried that their words may cause someone to cause a hate crime or harm to another person? Or am I reading too much into these pastors' responses? The way the evangelicals view the bible you would think "Homosexuality is a sin" is in every other verse of the bible, regardless of what version you follow. I think it is INFERRED maybe 1 or 2 times in all the chapters of the bible, not 20 or 30 like they'd have us believe. I'm growing very weary of this POV and hopefully more enlighten times are to follow.

    1. Kevin on May 2, 2007 9:23:34 AM:

      Chris, you're on to something. And I'm worried that there is a creeping chilling effect going on where the news media (and the media in general) is growing more afraid to take on religious leaders in the United States at the expense of a full airing of issues and stories. Some of it is just idiotic, too. The whole deal with NBC editing out Madonna on the cross from her concert was so ridiculous but telling. These decisions are seemingly made as a result of intimidation, not out of sound editorial concern. And in the case of this guy Hamil Harris, I expect it's a combination of the reporter's known bias and white liberal fear on the masthead (the kind that bows to the pulpit stink-eye all too often in D.C.) that might be factors as well.

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