(CNSNews.com) - Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen will no longer support "hate crimes" legislation that includes "sexual orientation" as a protected status, even if the proposal is identical to a bill he voted for in 2004. The Virginia senator acknowledged Friday that such legislation could be used by federal courts to extend civil rights protections to homosexuals and to squelch free speech.
"Senator Allen is going to vote against adding 'sexual orientation' to federal 'hate crimes' laws," Mike Thomas, Allen's state director, told Cybercast News Service Friday.
Thomas said Allen has two serious concerns after monitoring how the federal courts have applied similar laws.
"The first is, he feels that those changes to hate crimes laws could have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights," Thomas said.
"Secondly - even though he doesn't feel that the legislation that was voted on in 2004, in and of itself, would elevate 'sexual orientation' to civil rights status - it's becoming clear that there are some courts that would use that as a building block toward civil rights status, which he is opposed to."
Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, shares Allen's concerns.
"These are the warnings that the pro-family groups ... have been making for years to politicians like George Allen," Glover told Cybercast News Service. "We're just happy that George Allen has seen it, now that it's actually coming to fruition, before it's too late."
Both Glover and Thomas referenced an October 2004 incident in Philadelphia where a group of Christians were arrested and each faced 47 years in jail for publicly reading Bible verses condemning homosexual behavior during the city's "Outfest," a "gay pride" celebration.
"He's seen religious liberties being threatened in Philadelphia," Glover said, "because of a 'hate crimes' law there that includes 'sexual orientation.'"
There are other cases as well, Thomas said. "There are indications that the courts are willing to use 'hate crimes' statutes to go after free speech and that is of great concern to Senator Allen," he said.
Glover had previously criticized Allen for what pro-family advocates saw as a reversal on this issue. As Cybercast News Service previously reported that Allen wrote supporters during his 2000 Senate campaign, telling them that he would "take no action that would have the effect of elevating sexual orientation to civil rights status including, but not limited to, adding sexual orientation to Federal Hate Crimes legislation or any other similar legislation."
Allen denied changing his position when he voted in favor of a 2004 bill that included "sexual orientation" as a protected class, because he believed, at that time, that the law would not provide civil rights protections to homosexuals. Thomas said it is now the potential effect of the legislation, not the senator's position that has changed.
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