The US Department of Justice this week sought dismissal of a frivolous challenge to the constitutionality of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Government argued that the plaintiffs, four anti-LGBT pastors and political activists, lacked legal standing to challenge the law, which criminalizes violent physical attacks based on religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion in certain circumstances. According to the DOJ’s brief, the plaintiffs’ claimed fear that they would be prosecuted as violent criminals for issuing anti-LGBT speeches and publications was so obviously at odds with the provision of the law that the suit should be immediately dismissed.
The Justice Department also cited a litany of legal precedents contradicting the lawsuit’s spurious claims, which assert that the Act is vague, overbroad, infringes speech and religious exercise, discriminates against heterosexual and non-transgender people, exceeds Congressional authority and infringes the rights of the states. Most of these arguments have been made repeatedly and unsuccessfully in the past against state hate crime and nondiscrimination laws.
Of course, like the lawsuits challenging the recent health care reforms, the purpose of this lawsuit is not actually to vindicate any legal right. The purpose is not to win. The idea that this law – which, like prior federal hate crimes laws, focuses exclusively on violent crimes, and which states explicitly that it can never be used to target constitutionally-protected activity – could ever be used to target churches or political groups is simply preposterous.
The point of this lawsuit, and others like it, is to advance a public message – a message based entirely on fear rather than facts – that new civil rights laws are somehow different from older ones, and somehow threaten religious freedom or other important rights. It is pure political theater, designed to manufacture, through simple repetition, a reason other than simple prejudice to oppose equal rights.