For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Drew Courtney or Josh Glasstetter
Phone: 202-467-4999

Obama Signs Hate Crimes Legislation into Law

WASHINGTON - Today, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James
Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  The legislation will extend
important protections to victims of violent hate crimes committed based on a
person's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and/or
disability.  It also strengthens existing hate crimes protections for a
variety of other categories, including race, color, religion, national origin
and ethnicity.

“We’ve struggled for many years to enact this legislation,
but I am deeply grateful to see these protections become federal law,”
said Reverend Timothy McDonald, People For the American Way board member and
chairman of the African American Ministers In Action.  “This bill
exemplifies our deepest American values, it ensures strong action against
senseless violence against people targeted simply because of who they are, and
furthermore it will protect the religious freedom of all clergy to speak out on
any issue they feel passionately about.  It is shameful that opponents of
this bill and the Religious Right have waged a dishonest and unfair campaign
against it, and I am thankful to all those who stood up to defend those most in

Right wing opponents of the bill have repeatedly attacked the
legislation, falsely claiming that the legislation would impinge on First
Amendment rights.  In fact, the bill contains important provisions to
ensure that clergy members can preach about any issue—including homosexuality—without
fear of government censure.

“This is a major step towards ensuring equality under the law for
all people,” said Michael B. Keegan, President of People For the American
Way.  “It’s been more than a decade since Matthew Shepard and
James Byrd, Jr. were murdered, but at long last the legislation bearing their
names has become a law.  I hope that Congress will move quickly to follow
this bill with legislation ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, repealing
the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and finally enacting the long overdue
Employment Non Discrimination Act.”

The Hate Crimes legislation, which was attached to the Department of
Defense authorization bill, includes protections based on gender
identity—the first time gender identity will receive positive protection
in federal law.

“As we commemorate the signing of this bill, it is appropriate
that we remember the unflagging leadership of Senator Kennedy,” said
Keegan.  “Without his tireless and passionate work in support of
this measure, this day would not be possible.  This legislation is yet one
more piece of his enduring legacy of making our core Constitutional values real
for all Americans."


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People For the American Way is dedicated to making the promise of America real for every American: Equality. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right to seek justice in a court of law. The right to cast a vote that counts. The American Way. Our vision is a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which everyone is treated equally under the law, given the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams, and encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. Our America respects diversity, nurtures creativity and combats hatred and bigotry.

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