Oct. 28, 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC - More than a decade since it was first introduced, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law today by U.S. President Barack Obama. The bill passed the Senate October 22 with a bipartisan 68-29 vote, having passed the House on October 8 by a vote of 281-146.
The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) of the United Methodist Church says it celebrates the passage of this piece of legislation.
"Tragically, each year, thousands of Americans become victims of violent crimes because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability," a GBCS news release states. "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevent Act will deter these crimes by directing important federal resources to help local law enforcement fight violent hate crimes, and authorizing federal law enforcement to step in when local officials do not. This important legislation ensures public safety and equal protection under the law from hate crimes," the release continues.
GBCS says that in addition to greater enforcement and protection from hate crimes, the legislation protects free speech and religious liberty. Support has come from across the political and theological spectrum "because all people deserve to have equal protection," according to the agency.
The United Methodist Church condemns acts of violence committed against individuals of difference races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation. GBCS urges all people "to be proactive in resisting hate and bigotry by creating an atmosphere of love and tolerance." This legislation, the agency attests, will help provide the necessary protections for all to live safely in our diverse society.
GBCS concludes, "We celebrate passage of this legislation with millions of Americans who believe that we are all created equal in the image of God, and with the rest of the civil rights community who have worked so hard for its passage."