New York State Bishops Statement on Hate Crimes Legislation

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New York State Bishops Statement on Hate Crimes Legislation

November 16, 1999

In New York State and throughout our nation, the concern of religious, community and elected leaders about bias-related violence has prompted legislative initiatives designed to increase criminal penalties for such offenses.

To date, we have not taken a public policy position on the merits of specific legislation designed to address such crimes. In response to requests, we have now examined our position regarding various proposals currently before our State Legislature.

After a deliberate and careful analysis, it is our judgment, for the reasons stated below, that we are unable to support these proposals, but we remain open to consideration of any further legislative proposals. Such position, however, should not be misconstrued either to imply that we do not appreciate the intent of this legislation or that we are not concerned about the form of these bills. We are committed to continue to participate in the process and dialogue and to apply the Church’s teachings with compassion to each piece of legislation as proposed.

As Catholics, we share with the proponents of anti-hate legislation a deep concern over deplorable attacks on individuals based on their perceived membership in a particular group or class. Indeed, at various times in our 2000 years as a Church, it has been Catholics who have been and are now the targets of such violence. We empathize fully with all those who find themselves victimized by violent, bias-motivated crimes. We stress that bias-motivated violence against all persons, whether based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, age, national origin or sexual orientation, in speech or in action, is reprehensible and deserves condemnation from all whenever it occurs.

Clearly, the stated intent of the legislation – reducing bias related crime and protecting potential victims – is laudable and is consistent with the central teachings of the Church, in upholding the sanctity of all human life, the equality and dignity of each human being and the fundamental right of each human being to enjoy respect, peace, justice and fairness.

At the same time, however, we have serious policy concerns that versions of the proposed legislation currently under consideration, in an attempt to achieve a well-intended goal which we find consistent with the positions of the New York State Catholic Conference, and the best interest of society in general, might be used to advance, in part, a policy agenda that is at