Indianapolis imam Michael Saahir addresses a hate crimes rally

In Wake of New Zealand Murders, Faith Groups Renew Push for Hate Crime Law

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indiana religious groups are taking the lead in pressing for a hate crime law.

About 30 Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh leaders gathered at the statehouse to urge legislators to specifically authorize longer sentences when crimes are motivated by hate. Organizers distributed postcards reading, “No List, No Law.” They want the House to put a specific list of commonly targeted groups back into the bill.

The Senate passed a hate crimes bill for just the second time, but only after deleting that list in favor of a generic mention of “bias” as grounds for harsher sentences.

Of 46 states with hate crime laws, only Utah takes the generic approach, and legislators there voted last week to replace it with a law listing 16 protected groups.

Speakers say the mass murders at two New Zealand mosques should be all the evidence needed for a hate crime law. Pastor John Girton with Indianapolis Christ Missionary Baptist Church says the targeting of specific groups continues a historical pattern running from segregation and lynching to bombings and cross-burnings, and shouldn’t be treated the same as any other crime:

Indianapolis imam Michael Saahir calls it “embarrassing” Indiana hasn’t joined 46 states, and much of the world, with hate crime laws. He says not passing a law gives “silent license” to hate groups and those they attack.

Faith-based groups have been at the front of the opposition as well, with some conservative churches charging they could face punishment over their opposition to gay marriage.

Neither the original bill nor the current version would create a new crime. Rather, if someone were convicted of a crime, the law would say explicitly that judges can look at motivations to justify imposing a longer sentence.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee has two meetings left — it hasn’t announced a hearing on the bill yet.

Indianapolis imam Michael Saahir (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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