4 lack standing to challenge federal hate-crimes law

Monday, August 6, 2012

Three Christian ministers and an anti-homosexuality advocate lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of a federal hate-crimes law, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Gary Glenn, who heads the American Family Association of Michigan, and Michigan pastors Levon Yuille, Rene B. Ouellette and James Combs contended that the 2009 federal law violated the First Amendment because it could subject them to prosecution for their religious-based speech against homosexuality.

The ministers claimed that under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act they would be subjected to “increased government scrutiny, questioning, investigation, surveillance, and intimidation on account of their strong, public opposition to homosexual activism, the homosexual lifestyle and the homosexual agenda.”

In September 2010, U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington of the Eastern District of Michigan determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not show that they faced a credible threat of prosecution under the law.

The plaintiffs appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Aug. 2, a three-judge circuit panel affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the suit in Glenn v. Holder. The panel reasoned that the federal hate-crimes act prohibited violent conduct, not speech.

“The Act does not prohibit Plaintiffs’ proposed course of hateful speech,” Judge James S. Gwin wrote for the panel. “Plaintiffs fail to satisfy their burden to show that their intended conduct creates a credible threat of prosecution to themselves or anyone else that is concrete, actual or imminent.”

Judge Jane B. Stranch wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs’ reliance on legislative history to show possible prosecution was misplaced.

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