Presiding Bishop to Senate: Support the Hate Crimes Prevention Act

July 11, 2007

For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. (Wisdom 11:25)

U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator:

As the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I am pleased to add our endorsement of hate crimes legislation and urge your strong support for the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 S. 1105. As Christians, in Eastertide we celebrate the new life that comes out of death. One of the important transforming steps our nation can take toward the new life that Christ personified is the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons and the valuing of their lives and gifts equally to all other persons. All are children of God. Even though it may be difficult to find God in the face of the other, God is there. And we must hope that others see the face of God in us as well.

The Episcopal Church has long been an advocate of combating hate in our society. In 2000, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church called on Congress to support hate crimes legislation at every level of government. No person or group of people should be the target of violence simply because of race, gender, religion, disability, national origin, sexuality or perceived sexual orientation. Yet we know such violence exists. In 2005, the FBI documented 7,163 hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability. It is my sincere hope that passage of this legislation will move our nation closer to the elimination of all acts of hate and violence.

I join many Episcopalians in sharing our gratitude toward Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) for honoring the memory of Matthew Shepard by renaming the Senate legislation the Matthew Shepard Act. As my predecessor, Frank Griswold, said at the time of Matthew Shepard’s death:

The fact that Matthew was an Episcopalian makes our grief no more sharp, but it does give us a particular responsibility to stand with gays and lesbians, to decry all forms of violence against them - from verbal to physical, and to encourage the dialogue that can, with God's help, lead to new appreciation for their presence in the life of our church, and the broader community.

Current federal law does not adequately address hate crimes. Not only does existing law contain obstacles to effective enforcement, but it also does not provide authority to investigate and prosecute bias crimes based on disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. S. 1105 will address those obstacles.

It is my firm belief that this legislation will not violate First Amendment protections. Hate crimes laws do not restrict speech. They target only criminal conduct prompted by prejudice. S. 1105 does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, preaching or other expressions of religious belief, name-calling, or even expressions of hatred toward any group. It covers only violent actions that result in death or bodily injury.

As the Senate begins to consider this important legislation, I urge you to support the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.


The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church