HR 1913: Problematic for Churches? (Updated)

UPDATE 3 June 2009 Robert Gagnon, NT Prof at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (a PCUSA school!) has published a new essay replying to HR 1913. The bill has been passed by the House and is now in a Senate committee as SB 909. (HT: PNW)

Original Post 28 April 2009

You can read online the proposed legislation to be debated in the House of Representatives this Thursday. Contrary to what I’ve read and heard in some media there is a clause at the end of the bill which restricts its use: “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The bill seems to be aimed at providing federal grants for local law enforcement agencies to address violence against racial and religious minorities and homosexuals. Some see this bill as a threat to religious liberty. Is it?

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  1. Scott, I have not read the link. But your description of the bill seems similar to legislation that is in place in the UK. Despite the clause you refer to it can only be a matter of time before religious hate crime and religious speech is targeted.

    There is no such thing as freedom of speech, and there is no real separation of church and state in the US, only accommodation of acceptable practices. If trends continue current acceptable practices within certain churches will be challenged. Or, at the very least, they will be threatened through civil law cases. It only needs one person to complain about discrimination, hate crime, or offensive speech in a religious context to threaten two centuries of constitutional convention.

    Leviathan is always lurking, waiting for the opportunity to rise again, even in the land of the free.

  2. Scott, I have not read the link. But your description of the bill seems similar to legislation that is in place in the UK. Despite the clause you refer to it can only be a matter of time before religious hate crime and religious speech is targeted.

    There is no such thing as freedom of speech, and there is no real separation of church and state in the US, only accommodation of acceptable practices. If trends continue current acceptable practices within certain churches will be challenged. Or, at the very least, they will be threatened through civil law cases. It only needs one person to complain about discrimination, hate crime, or offensive speech in a religious context to threaten two centuries of constitutional convention.

    Leviathan is always lurking, waiting for the opportunity to rise again, even in the land of the free.

  3. Just read it. I don’t see how it is problematic for churches. Yes, there is the clause at the end. But the crux of the resolution is the prohibition of hate crimes that “cause bodily injury” or “attempt to cause bodily injury.”

    The problems will arise when laws are enacted to discourage the preaching of God’s word against sexual immorality. And those type of laws will sneak in by way of prohibiting churches from discriminating employment based on sexual preferences, etc. In other words, if a church has a childcare service, in the future it may not be lawful to refuse employment to a gay or lesbian applicant.

    • Joe,

      As of now, I agree with you. I quoted the last clause because, in some accounts, it seems to be omitted. The way some folk are talking about the bill, one would think that it was an entirely different bill. I wondered if I was missing something.

      • Dear Mr. Clark,

        My understanding of this bill and all proposed “Hate Crimes” legislation is that it essentially will produce a caste system in America where sodomites will be given “special” legal protections because of their sexual preference. This type of legislation can also discriminate against the rest of us who are not lesbians or homosexuals. Americans (except for the PREBORN who may be destroyed by their mothers before birth) already have legal rights and protection under the law. This type of legislation can also affect Christians who try to evangelize or preachers who preach repentance from sin as the sodomites will whine and cry saying we are inciting hatred against them because we stand on the Word of God which calls such behaviour an abomination and something one must turn from.

        • Angela,

          Have you read the bill? There is a link above.

          As I say, I’m no fan of “hate-crimes” legislation but it doesn’t help
          the cause of critics if they attack proposed legislation they haven’t

          • Dear Mr. Clark,

            No, I did not personally read the bill because I trust advisers who have read it and who have been affected by various other “hate crimes” legislation… To be quite honest with you, I wonder if you have had personal contact with any of the members of Repent America who were arrested while sharing the Gospel with sodomites on public property a few years ago? I have been in contact with them and others who are on the front-lines of the culture war. These men and women are my advisers. If they say there is danger in “hate crimes” legislation, I believe it. I’ll look for some links and if you don’t mind, post them here.

            Freedom of speech is something we cannot compromise on in America.

            Not to brag, but please know that I am not politically ignorant. Thank you.

            • What you describe is called, in Roman Catholic theology, “fides
              implicita” (implicit faith). In that case one has to be careful in
              whom one places such faith! I’ve read the bill and I don’t yet see
              what (beyond the category of hate crimes generally) the fuss is about.

              As to culture wars, well, I’d like to see where the Apostle Paul
              engaged in such.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    I’m an attorney–I admit it. I scanned the bill. Joe is right–“willfully causing bodily injury” or attempting to cause bodily injury through things such as the use of firearms is part of the language of the bill. Let me guess about the name of one person who is pinging about the bill–does his last name rhyme with “Robson”?

    Some Christians need to get a life.

    • Thanks Richard.

      I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. I didn’t a lot about
      which to worry but some religious conservatives seem quite concerned
      about this bill.

      That said, I don’t much care for “hate crime” legislation generally.
      If someone commits a crime against another person, they committed a
      crime. If we want to increase the penalty for, e.g. assault, fine,
      increase the penalty. Introducing a fundamentally subjective judgment
      re motive (e.g. racism, sexism, etc) seems to verge on making the
      state into “thought police.”

      • Dr. Clark,

        I agree with you; I’m not a fan of hate crime legislation. Having said that, we already have a precedent with Title VII discrimination law which prohibits discrimination on the bases of race, sex, national origin, age, and religion, which is absolutely based on motives or inferred motives; this is the next step. I guess I get pretty cynical when I hear religious conservatives on the airwaves yelling “the sky is falling” over and over; I have better things to do with my time, like reading RRC.

  5. While I have you on the line, Dr Clark, do you have a work/reading you can recommend for someone in our local PCA church who is new to the Reformed faith who seems to be wandering off the reservation into theonomy and the Vision Forum crap?

    • Well, as self-serving as it seems, that’s why I wrote RRC. There is a
      good response to theonomy from Ligon Duncan. Then there is always the
      Godfrey, ed. Theonomy: A Reformed Response.

      The question I would ask this person is: Why do these movements
      interest you? What is it about them that attracts you? Then I would
      ask: how do you relate these movements to the WCF, esp. ch. 19? What
      do you make of the word “expired”? (in WCF 19). What is there about
      the NT use of the OT that makes you think that the Lord intends the
      civil law to be normative for NT or post-canonical civil polities?

    • Dear Richard,

      Please pardon my interruption here, but Dr. Joe Morecraft III and Pastor Brian Schwertley would be very good resources for your friend at church… carries their sermons. BTW – Didn’t they lead the charge against the Federal Vision adherents? I hope my advice is helpful. : )

  6. Just as an aside there is no more relation between theonomy and FV than there is between Calvinism and FV.

    cf: Joe Morecraft

    • Benjamin,

      Historically, this is untrue. There may or may not be a direct logical
      connection between the two but there’s certainly a historical relation
      between the two movements. Arguably, without theonomy there would be
      no FV movement. Many of leaders of the FV movement were either
      theonomists or sympathetic to theonomy. Yes, some of the strongest
      critics of the FV have been theonomists but they seem to be the
      exception that tests the rule.

  7. Well without Calvinism we would not have FV either and all of the leaders of the FV are Calvinists, guess then there must be something wrong with that as well…

    Not to mention even if the FORMER Theonomists like James Jordan and Steve Schlissel have repudiated Theonomy as being out of accord with FV, they do not really count since they are an exception that proves G.B.A. false.

    • Benjamin,

      The FV is the result of a lot of influences and sources but there can
      be no question that theonomy was part of the mix long before the FV
      movement had a name. It is a theology in service of a particular
      approach to transforming culture. Jordan and Schlissel may be former
      theonomists now but they were theonomists when they were helping to
      lay the groundwork for the FV. Jeff Myers was also involved in both
      movements, as were Wilson, Wilkens and others. Most of the theonomists
      and all the Reconstructionists shared Norm Shepherd’s
      postmillennialism and he was an enthusiastic supporter of theonomy, if
      not a theonomist himself. It may be that the modern version of
      postmillennialism associated with the FV, theonomy, and the
      Reconstructionist movements is just as much a part of the evolutionary
      stew as theonomy. That would account for the shift of Schlissel and
      Jordan away from theonomy while remaining FV.

      • Dear Mr. Clark,

        Are you familiar with who Richard Cameron was and when he lived and died for our LORD during the persecution of the Scottish Covenanters? He was post-millennial and would probably be labeled a “theonomist” if he were alive today! Long live King Jesus and may we all be optimistic as we press His Crown Rights and seek for His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven… And I denounce all Federal Vision teaching as it is unbiblical!

        • Angela,

          Virtually everyone in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a
          theocrat. That’s a little different from theonomy. They all agreed
          that the magistrate should enforce the first table of the decalogue.
          They didn’t seek the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive

          Fortunately, the American Reformed and Presbyterian churches decided
          in the late 18th century, that theocracy was a mistake.

          For more on this see Recovering the Reformed Confession.

          • Dear Dr. Clark,

            Praise the LORD for forefathers of the faith as we can learn much from them; perhaps one day the good LORD will endow us with as much wisdom as they had.

  8. What you all missed is “OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED”… that is, if the “victim” perceives, or even someone witnessing something perceives is punishable.

    If something results in stress, crying, mental anguish, it can be construed as “attempts to cause bodily injury to any person”… Note the “any” – it does not have to be the sodomite. It could be a witness.

    Boil the frog.

    • David,

      I don’t think so. Paul confronted the Athenian Philosophical Society
      with their unbelief, with the natural revelation of God, with the law,
      and with the gospel of the resurrection. Preaching the law and the
      gospel to unbelievers is not usually what is meant by Der
      . I would call what Paul did “evangelism” or “the
      ministry of the word or the proclamation of the Word but he wasn’t
      trying to “take back” Greco-Roman society for Christ. He wasn’t
      picketing the local guild hall (which had pagan rites) or the local
      brothel (pornography was widespread in the Paul’s day, it was carved
      into the walls of buildings in ways that would not be allowed today).
      Paul was neither shocked nor surprised by the results of unbelief. He
      didn’t advocate withdrawal from the world. Indeed, he advocated the
      opposite to the Corinthians. Nor, however, is there much evidence that
      he intended to “transform” the culture.

      • Fair enough, I suppose it depends what you mean by culture war. I see Paul in Acts 17,18,19 engaged in word ministry in the public sphere. That ministry had significant implications for the culture of the cities in which Paul chose to minister publicly. He challenged the public idolatry of the day. If culture war is not about speaking up for your god, what is it? Acts 19:30,31 is interesting, isn’t it?

        • David,

          When one says “culture wars” one has to stipulate which culture? For
          which culture would Paul have been going “to war”? Jewish “culture” I
          don’t think so. Greco-Roman culture? No. “Christian culture”? When was
          that? Where was that?

          The entire question of a “culture war” is completely anachronistic to
          the 1st century.

          • Certainly. We probably agree that even now the idea of a culture war is an overcooked one. I did not fully understand your earlier reference to Der Kulturkampf, though. Is the late 19thC Germany/Prussia at all comparable to the 21stC US/UK church situation?

            Anyway, Paul to my reading seems to show plenty of concern for all the cultures that he knew. If he wanted people to change their ways that is fairly close to wanting to change their culture, no? Or do you think cultures are fixed, with people simply moving from one culture to another, one kingdom to another even?

            If writing about culture wars is anachronistic to early Christianity, much the same can be written about most of our social and governmental theories, 2k or otherwise. It’s a problem for all of us who subscribe to the WCF, or even just follow traditions based on the Westminster Standards.

  9. This particular Legislation is merely an amendment to the Washington D.C Municipal Code. Legislation for D.C is always styled as being held at the City of Washington. Always remember that Congress legislates for the City of D.C. This legislation has no application in the several states of the Union.
    Pasted below is the genesis for title 18 248, H.R 1913 is an addition to Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994′.

    TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 13 > § 248


    1994—Pub. L. 103–322, § 330023(a)(2), amended section catchline generally. Prior to amendment, catchline read as follows: “§ 248 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances.”

    One Hundred Third Congress
    of the
    United States of America
    Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,
    the twenty-fifth day of January, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-four
    An Act
    To amend title 18, United States Code, to assure freedom of access to reproductive
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
    This Act may be cited as the `Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994′.


      “To provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes.”

      It may be an addendum to a bill aimed at DC but does it not have broader application? These grants aren’t just for DC. E.g. “Each State, local, or Tribal law enforcement agency that desires a grant under this subsection shall submit an application to the Attorney General….”

      “the Attorney General shall give priority to crimes committed by offenders who have committed crimes in more than one State and to rural jurisdictions that have difficulty covering the extraordinary expenses relating to the investigation or prosecution of the crime.”

      None of this obviously restricts the bill to the D of C.

  10. No, I don’t think so, at least not in this form. First Amendment liberties remain in place and there are protections against religious assault or persecution as well.

    Our focus is on Christ. The church grew rapidly in the first century under an aggressive government assault. Maybe we should think more about lost people and worry less about government.

  11. Hey Dr.C,

    I think the bill that we should be concerned about is the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I studied this bill this past Fall while also researching other attempts to regulate Christian business practices and educations. ENDA would not allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. There is a provision to exclude churches, but who in government is competent to define “church”? There are a number of cases from this past year that involved government infringement upon property rights and private business using “anti-discrimination” legislation and kangaroo courts designed to punish discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    While we focus on less-threatening legislation, savvy politicians on the federal and state level are doing an end-around to gradually enforce a government-imposed religious orthodoxy on the free market.

    • Correction, I have never seen RICO used in divorce cases(?), but it certainly is used against pro lifers. Even if you win, it is expensive, but that wasn’t what RICO was supposed to be about in the first place.

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