Okla. senator to propose bill to counter hate crimes law
An Oklahoma state senator plans to offer a bill in the spring legislative session that would give the state of Oklahoma the power to opt out of federal requirements for carrying out the newly amended hate crimes law.
State Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, said the newly passed Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends hate crimes law protections to include actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, oversteps the bounds of the federal government and hinders free speech and religious freedom.
“The federal government should not be creating a special class of people, and that is just what they did when they passed and signed this bill,” Russell said. “All crimes against another person have some level of hate in them, and people can be assured that our laws that protect people against crimes such as murder are sufficient to protect everyone.”
Russell said because the government has decided to intervene on issues of morality, he is worried that religious leaders who speak out against any lifestyle could be imprisoned for their speech.
“The law is very vague to begin with,” Russell said. “Sexual orientation is a very vague word that could be extended to extremes like necrophilia.”
Russell said he is also concerned if someone is attacked and killed for his or her sexual orientation, the suspect could pass the blame onto a religious leader who preached out against the lifestyle of the victim who was attacked.
Russell said, as a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, he is upset that the new hate crimes bill was attached to a defense spending bill.
“This bill couldn’t stand on its own merits through multiple sessions of Congress, so a few activist representatives stuck it into a defense spending bill,” Russell said. “A bill supporting the troops was turned into an activist bill where, if you voted against the hate crimes act, it made you look like you were voting against the troops.”
Russell said Oklahoma can opt out of the law on the basis of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The bill gives the federal government power that was not given to them in the Constitution,” Russell said. “I am aware of the supremacy of the federal government over state governments, but the federal requirements are vague enough for us to make actions. We just have to be very careful on how we proceed.”
When asked about whether the state of Oklahoma should reject the $5 million in federal funds that the federal government would give to law enforcement agencies to help prosecute hate crimes, Russell said he thought about finding a way to pass his law while taking the money, but said it would be a compromise in the values of his bill.
“I understand the state could use all the money it can get, but we can’t compromise our values for some quick cash,” Russell said.
He said he is just looking out for everyone’s civil liberties.
“We are trying to protect everyone’s right to free speech as guaranteed in the First Amendment, not just those in a special, protected class,” Russell said.
Spokespeople from the Norman chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Oklahomans for Equality both said they are still studying the proposed bill and did not want to issue a statement until an actual bill was up for consideration in the state Legislature.