There has been a federal hate crimes law since 1968 because Americans recognize that bias-motivated crimes of violence have no place in our country. The current federal hate crimes law authorizes federal aid in cases of hate crimes committed because of a person's race, color, religion, or national origin. This afternoon, the House passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the conference report on Defense Authorization for FY 2010 (HR 2647)–legislation that closes gaps in federal law to also help combat hate crimes committed because of a person's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Similar hate crimes provisions have passed the House several times over the last decade. Most recently, the House passed this legislation in April. In the 110th Congress, the House passed a virtually identical hate crimes prevention bill but the Senate did not take it up and in 2005, 2004, and 2000 the House passed legislation that was stripped out in conference reports. It was nearly 11 years ago that Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered–the time for debate is long over. Passage of this conference report by the House and Senate will finally send the federal hate crimes legislation to the President's desk to become the law of the land.
Speaker Pelosi on today’s passage:
This legislation also gives state and local law enforcement the tools they need to prevent and prosecute hate crimes nationwide, helping protect Americans against bias-motivated violence and securing our fundamental right to feel safe in our communities.
This nation was founded on the promise of pluralism; a commitment to equality and opportunity; and the belief that 'liberty and justice for all' is not simply an empty pledge — it rests at the core of our identity as a people. No American should ever have to suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look, or what they believe.
With today's vote, the House has beckoned the 'better angels of our nature' as Americans. We are standing with the families of Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr., and countless other victims of hate crimes. Their voices are our inspiration. Their cries for justice are our motive for action. I applaud my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who supported this measure and stating in a clear voice that the forces of hate have no place in the United States of America.