Matthew Shepard Act on fast track to becoming law

Found in my inbox, from Senator Carl Levin:

This week, Congress took an important step to protect those who have been targeted because of the color of their skin, their religion, their disability, their gender, or their sexual orientation.

Yesterday, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees agreed to a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 that included the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This legislation will likely be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama in the coming days.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am delighted that we were able to include this landmark legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act because it embodies values of diversity and freedom that our men and women in uniform fight to defend.

As Senator Ted Kennedy said in 2007 when we debated this legislation:
"We want to be able to have a value system that is worthy for our brave men and women to defend. They are fighting overseas for our values. One of the values is that we should not, in this country, in this democracy, permit the kind of hatred and bigotry that has stained the history of this Nation over a considerable period of time. We should not tolerate it. We keep faith with these men and women who are serving overseas when we battle that hatred and bigotry and prejudice at home."
According to the FBI, between 1998 and 2007, more than 77,000 hate crimes incidents were reported. The trend is up for hate crimes based on sexual orientation - with a six percent increase in such crimes in the most recent year for which statistics are available, from 1,195 in 2006 to 1,265 in 2007. This is a major new category of hate crimes that would be covered, for the first time, by this legislation.

This law would punish violent acts, not beliefs. It would provide federal protection for victims of violent crimes where the offender intentionally selects the victim because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

I want to emphasize that this legislation only applies to violent, bias-motivated crimes and does not infringe on any conduct protected by the First Amendment. The right to organize against, preach against and speak against any way of life is left intact with this legislation.

We must make America a fully inclusive nation, a country that does not tolerate violent acts against individuals because of who they are. I am proud to be able to report that this week we have taken a very important step toward that goal.
While I can't say I agree with putting it in the Defense Authorization Bill, I'm glad this is going to become law soon.

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