Fox's Henneberg repeats right-wing myth that hate crimes bill could gag ministers

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN & TOM ALLISON

Molly Henneberg uncritically reported the false claim made by religious groups that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would allow individuals or groups to "be prosecuted for their religious beliefs."

During the April 29 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, correspondent Molly Henneberg reported that religious groups are concerned that under the proposed Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, "they may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well." However, the assertion that the legislation would allow individuals or groups to "be prosecuted for their religious beliefs" is false: Section 8 of the bill states that "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the Constitution," and the First Amendment to the Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (emphasis added). Indeed, the House Judiciary Committee's report on the legislation states that the purpose of Section 8 of the bill is "to lay to rest concerns raised in the 110th Congress mark-up of the legislation, and repeated since then, that religious speech or expression by clergy could form the basis of a prosecution. ... Nothing in this legislation would prohibit the constitutionally protected expression of one's religious beliefs."

Moreover, Henneberg did not mention that supporters of the bill dispute the assertion that the legislation "could gag ministers who preach that [homosexuality is a sin], or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple." For example, the House Judiciary Committee report states:

The bill has been crafted in a fashion that fully protects first amendment and other constitutional rights. The bill is designed only to punish violent acts, not beliefs or thoughts -- even violent thoughts. The legislation does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, name-calling, verbal abuse, or expressions of hatred toward any group, even if such statements are hateful. Moreover, nothing in this legislation prohibits the lawful expression of one's deeply held religious or personal beliefs. The bill only covers violent actions that result in death or bodily injury committed because the victim has one of the specified actual or perceived characteristics.

By contrast, later in the show, during a segment with Rep. Steve King (R-IA), co-host Bill Hemmer noted supporters' views on the issue: "[T]he other side is saying the law is only meant to help gay people from being targeted because of their sexuality. They also insist there's nothing in this law that will stymie the free expression of any religion." Hemmer later asked King: "[D]o you honestly think in America that a minister is going to be thrown in jail for up to 10 years for something he or she says from the pulpit?" King responded: "I didn't honestly think that the Supreme Court of the state of Iowa would impose same-sex marriage on an entire state and directly against a specific law. So, today I would say, probably not. Ten years from now, absolutely it's conceivable, if we just look back on the recent history of the political correctness argument that's seeking to impose itself into law in the United States."

From the April 29 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

HEMMER: Out of Washington today, the House today debating a bill that is causing concern in churches across the country. A bill would extend hate crime protections to gays and lesbians. The critics -- they call it the "minister gag bill," fearing it could be used to silence pastors who preach that homosexuality is a sin. Now, Molly Henneberg is watching this for us live on the Hill. And Molly, I guess, at first off, is it going to pass, the bill?

HENNEBERG: Hi, Bill. Yes, it is expected to pass the House today. A similar bill passed the House two years ago and then failed in the Senate. But they are bringing it up again today, and it's expected to pass, especially now that more -- that Democrats have more of a lead, more numbers, in the House today. It is expected to pass. The real battle will be in the Senate. But today it will come to a floor vote at some point this afternoon. It will be interesting to see how moderate Democrats vote on it, Bill, but it is expected to pass the House.

HEMMER: And it's not without controversy, too. The opponents say what about it, Molly?

HENNEBERG: Well, they have a couple of objections, Bill. First of all, they say there are already laws on the books to punish violent offenders. And they say all these offenders should be punished equally. This law would add even up to 10 years in prison on an offender's sentence if he -- if the crime is committed against a gay or transgendered person. And opponents say, hey, everyone should be punished the same, get the same sentence for a violent crime.

There are also, as you were saying, religious groups that object to it. Their concern that they may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.

HEMMER: And Molly, thank you for that. As you say, it's expected to pass the House today. We're going to talk with a member of the House who is against this coming up at the top of the hour. Molly Henneberg on the Hill, thanks.

[...]

HEMMER: In the meantime, we talked about this -- Molly Henneberg 30 minutes ago. The hate crimes bill expected to hit the House floor today. Supporters of that legislation say it will protect gay and lesbians from discrimination. The language, however, has some others worried that this bill could end up stifling religious liberties. Representative Steve King is a Republican from Iowa, a member of the Hosue Judiciary Committee, and an outspoken critic on the hate crimes legislation. Sir, good morning to you from Capitol Hill.

KING: Good morning.

HEMMER: There are those who call this a gag bill for ministers. Can you explain that? Why?

KING: It's a gag bill for ministers because of the intimidation effect that flows from this language. And there's definitions in the bill that reference other sections of the code such as violent crime as defined as having an element of an act against a person or property. So, for -- just imagine, if you have a pastor that preaches out against homosexuality, directly from the Old or New Testament, and someone goes out and paints graffiti on the garage of their neighbor who may be homosexual, that can be linked as having an element of a violent act against the property of the garage, and that could bring the pastor into this. And they could be punished with the enhanced penalty, up to 10 years in a federal penitnentary.

HEMMER: So you -- you use the word intimidation, that's how you describe it? The intimidation against ministers when they preach from the pulpit against homosexuality?

KING: It will be absolutely an intimidation factor. They already have the IRS that intimidates our pastors, and this would be the hate crimes or the thought crimes legislation, as I've described it, that would certainly intimidate pastors and members of the regular public, whatever their walk of life. This is about enforcing the speech of political correctness and then thought correctness on the people in America, and the pastors are the leaders of our thought.

HEMMER: Now, the other side is saying the law is only meant to help gay people from being targeted because of their sexuality. They also insist there's nothing in this law that will stymie the free expression of any religion. Now, I know you firmly oppose that, but, frankly, the other side's got the votes on this, don't they?

KING: They absolutely have the votes. They shot down every attempt we made to put some tighter definitions in the bill. There's language in the bill that uses the word gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Those three words can mean about anything. Part of it is what's in a person's head; part of it is what's in the perpetrator's head; part of it is what's in the victim's head; and part of it is the physiology of the individual. And each of those definitions -- and so they're very, very broad --

HEMMER: But do you honestly -- do you honestly think in America that a minister is going to be thrown in jail for up to 10 years for something he or she says from the pulpit?

KING: I didn't honestly think that the Supreme Court of the state of Iowa would impose same-sex marriage on an entire state and directly against a specific law. So, today I would say, probably not. Ten years from now, absolutely it's conceivable, if we just look back on the recent history of the political correctness argument that's seeking to impose itself into law in the United States. Yes sir, Bill.

HEMMER: But do you -- do you believe that gays do need protection because their sexuality in any sense?

KING: I believe that everyone deserves protection and any crime against an individual is just that: A crime against an individual. And when we cross the line and punish people for perpetrating an act of violence or inciting an act of violence based upon what's in their head rather than the overt act itself, we've actually reached George Orwell's 1984 prediction, Bill.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Molly Henneberg
Show/Publication
America's Newsroom
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