This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
week, President Obama signed an expansion of federal law on hate crimes. Such
laws provide more investigative resources or longer sentences, or both, for
crimes driven by prejudice.
now, federal law has covered crimes based on a victim's race, color, religion
or national origin. Congress first acted in nineteen sixty-eight after the
murder of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
after years of effort by gay rights groups and others, the law will include sexual
orientation. And it will extend protection to those victimized because of their
gender or gender identity or a disability.
The new act passed by Congress is named
for two victims of hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was a gay college student
murdered in Wyoming in nineteen ninety-eight. That same year, three white men
in Texas beat a black man, James Byrd Junior, and pulled him to his death
behind a truck.
Democrats attached the new hate crimes
legislation to a major defense bill that had to be passed. Republicans wanted
to consider it separately. John Boehner, the minority leader in the House of
Representatives, called it "thought crimes" legislation and "radical
a statement, he said "all violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously."
The legislation, he said, "places a higher value on some lives than others."
Most of the states also have some form
of laws of their own dealing with hate crimes. More than seven thousand six
hundred incidents were reported nationwide in two thousand seven, the most
recent year available. Seventeen percent were linked to sexual orientation.
Lawrence is a dean at George Washington University Law School. He says the
United States has been somewhat of a leader in passing hate crimes legislation.
Now such laws are becoming more common internationally.
take different forms in different countries. For example, some countries ban speech
that could incite hatred. Germany bans showing symbols of its Nazi past.
the United States, free speech is protected by the Constitution. But social and
religious conservatives expressed fears that they might now be accused of a hate
crime if they denounced homosexuality. Professor Lawrence says the new federal
law -- meant to prevent violence -- will not limit free speech rights.
On a separate issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
this week criticized international efforts by Islamic countries to ban
HILLARY CLINTON: "The best antidote to intolerance
is not the 'Defamation of Religions' approach of banning and punishing
offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against
discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority
religious groups, and a vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and
Organization of the Islamic Conference has been urging the United Nations to
approve anti-defamation measures.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written
by Brianna Blake. You can find transcripts and podcasts of our programs -- and
share comments -- at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Bob Doughty.