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Federal Legislation
May 19, 2010

S. 909—Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act

S. 909 passed as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill (S. 1390) with a 63–28 vote in the Senate on July 15, 2009, and a 281–146 vote in the House (H.R. 1913) on October 8, 2009. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009.

S. 909 is a federal hate crimes bill. It will (1) create for the first time a federal hate crime defined as “bodily injury to any person or… attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person”; (2) provide federal support to state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies if the agency requests federal support in prosecuting hate crimes; and (3) authorize the federal government to prosecute hate crimes if a state does not intend to prosecute the crime, or if the verdict or sentence under state charges “left demonstratively unvindicated the federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”

4/28/2009Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
6/25/2009Hearing on hate crimes in the Senate Judiciary Committee

The House of Representatives passed “hate crimes” legislation (H.R. 1913) on April 29, 2009, by a vote of 249–175. The Senate voted on July 16, 2009 to add the Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill (63–28 vote). The amended Department of Defense bill then passed the Senate on July 23, 2009. The Senate and House versions of the bill must now be reconciled in a conference committee before being sent to the president’s desk.

Sponsor: Senator Edward M. Kennedy (MA)


Bill Summary and Status S. 909

HSLDA’s Position:

Talking Points:
S. 909 will create federal offenses for crimes motivated by the “actual or perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity of any person. Sexual orientation and gender identity will be made a federally protected class under existing hate crimes laws. This legislation could create a dangerous precedent in Congress that could lead to future legislation that would restrict religious speech concerning homosexuality.

S. 909 is unnecessary. Violent crimes are already being prosecuted. Furthermore, recent FBI statistics show that crimes motivated by hatred or bias against a trait of the victim are decreasing. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia already have some form of hate crimes law. States which do not have hate crimes laws still prosecute the crimes under existing criminal laws. A federal hate crimes bill would only increase the control and scope of the federal government.

Although S. 909 prosecutes only “crime of violence” and does not prosecute expressions or opinions, it opens the door to examining the thoughts of not only a criminal, but everyone with whom he or she may have come into contact. An overzealous prosecutor could turn a criminal prosecution into a political correctness prosecution. Broadly written hate crimes bills in other states and countries have led to “hate speech” legislation which has been used to restrict the freedom of politically incorrect and unpopular speech, which has been termed “hate speech.” S. 909 could be used to advance the politically correct agenda in this country by providing greater protections for certain classes of people. Future legislation could expand these protections and place restrictions on religious liberty and free speech, which is what has happened in some other states and countries.