Religious broadcasters were celebrating Friday over the removal of a hate-crimes provision from the National Defense Authorization Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union supported the provision, saying that it protected free-speech rights while punishing only the hateful conduct.
The bill punished the conduct of targeting someone for violence because of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It allowed bigoted speech or association with hate groups as evidence of a crime, but only if it was directly related to the crime.
But religious broadcasters were not assuaged. "We know the bill's sponsors did not believe it had any First Amendment implications," National Religious Broadcasters senior vice president and general counsel Craig Parshall said, "but we felt it did. It was a troublesome scenario," he added, calling its removal "a big victory."
The heads of the House committee and subcommittee overseeing communications issues, respectively, in June asked the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to study the use of "telecommunications to commit hate crimes," although it was not targeted at any one group. Conservative shock jocks have been accused of hate speech for, example.
Religious broadcasters are concerned that such a bill might suppress speech from the pulpit, like preaching on morals and values that might not square with some powerful politicians, say opposing homosexuality or branding Islam a false religion.
Parshall said there was talk of reintroducing the bill as a stand-alone next year, but he added that NRB would mount vigorous opposition, as it did to its inclusion in the defense authorization.