President Bush is committed to vetoing the latest effort to expand federal “hate crimes” laws to include sexual orientation, even if it means sending a defense authorization bill back to Congress, the White House said.
“The proposals they’re talking about are not sufficiently narrow.”
The veto threat adds another twist to the high-stakes battle between the Democrat-led Congress and Mr. Bush over the Iraq war.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, attached the crime measure to the defense authorization bill, which Democrats are expected to use as a vehicle to try to alter war policy.
A coalition of religious leaders, many of them black Christian pastors, have lobbied the White House to reject the amendment, saying it could lead to suppression of free speech and religious expression.
“The bill is not about crime prevention or even civil rights. It’s about outlawing peaceful speech — speech that asserts that homosexual behavior is morally wrong,” said Chuck Colson, a former aide to President Nixon who now runs a Christian ministry to prisoners.
The legislation would make it easier for federal law enforcement to become involved in crimes against people based on their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Lanham is leading the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a group of Christian pastors lobbying against the bill. The coalition is working with Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.
“He seems very receptive,” Mr. Jackson said.
Mr. Kennedy’s office says the bill “punishes violence, not speech.”
“It covers only violent acts that result in death or bodily injury. It does not prohibit or punish speech, expression or association in any way — even hate speech,” said a Kennedy aide.
“Nothing in the act will prohibit the lawful expression of anyone’s religious or political beliefs. People will always be free to speak their mind about issues.”
Mr. Fratto said the president, who has pushed for quick approval of spending for U.S. troops, would send the defense bill back to Capitol Hill if the hate-crime amendment remains attached.
The White House stopped short of saying it was opposed to the language because of concerns about religious freedom.