Could A New Federal Bill Land Preachers In Prison?

Knoxville (WVLT) -- Some pastors worry it could make what they preach a crime.

A bill passed in the U.S. House and Senate would make violent acts against Gay, Lesbian, and the Transgendered federal hate crimes.

But some Christian leaders say that could stop them from preaching against homosexuality.

We talked to people on both sides of the argument.

Clarence Scott is openly homosexual.

He also feels life hasn't always given him much to laugh about.

"It was the tale of two lives," Scott said. "I'm not going to hide who I am."

So, seven years ago he came out as a gay man.

He was met by ridicule.

"Most of that expressed was verbal name calling," Scott said.

His gay friends had it worse.

"One person was killed, he said, "that was here in Knox County."

Now both houses of congress have passed versions of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

"It gives federal protection for the first time for hate crimes against gays and lesbians," said Robert Galloway, the openly gay pastor of Metropolitan Community Church.

Currently, federal hate crime law applies to violent acts based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The proposed law would tack on sexually-oriented factors.

That gives federal authorities the power to step-in if local authorities won't or can't.

"It lets me know that should I receive some physical assault because of who I am, that it will be properly investigated and prosecuted," said Scott.

But the bill's brought criticism from churches.

Some pastors say if they preach that homosexuality is sinful, and one of their church members commits a hate crime, then they could be charged too.

"We can disagree about whether homosexuality's a sin, but when you move it to hate, then it's not about the Gospel anyway," Pastor Galloway said. "I don't see how it could hinder just speaking out about homosexuality."

It turns out it won't.

The bill says nothing about limiting speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Even some mainstream ministers say the bill is just common sense.

"Obviously anything I say from the pulpit shouldn't be causing someone to go out and hurt another individual, no matter what my opinions on their particular lifestyle," said Bill Shiell, senior pastor of Knoxville's First Baptist Church.

According to Rev. Shiell, it all comes down to fairness and love.

"Love God and love your neighbor as yourself," he said.

The senate attached the hate crime bill to legislation that bankrolls the Iraq War.

President Bush has threatened to veto it, saying many state and local laws have been passed that would make the bill redundant.

To read the complete bill you can click on the link below.

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