On December 20th, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act cleared the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous vote after it was introduced by the chamber’s three African-American members — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-NY), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) — introduced it earlier in 2018.
It means, bluntly, that if the bill passes, that lynching would be a federal crime. That’s right: Although lawmakers tried to address lynching at the federal level nearly 200 times in the first half of the 20th Century, it was never successful. So here we are in the 21st Century, still trying to fix what Rolling Stone‘s Jamil Smith called “the most sustained campaign of domestic terrorism outside of slavery’s holocaust” after visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama last year.
While the most common symbol of lynching is a hanging, in fact it encompasses a wide variety of heinous acts: being shot repeatedly, burned alive, forced to jump off a bridge, dragged behind cars. Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming in 1998 is the most infamous gay lynching of the past 20 years that spurred a movement to create stricter hate crime legislation and protections for LGBT people.
So it should be a no-brainer to add “lynching” to federal civil rights law. But since in addition to “race, color, religion, and national origin,” this bill would cover crimes motivated by hatred toward a person’s “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability” — it has some evangelical activists in an uproar.
Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit organization that opposes rights for gays, lesbian and transgender people and has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its chairman, Mat Staver, has been urging lawmakers to pump the breaks on the bill due to the fact that it would also protect LGBT people from hate crimes.
In an interview with conservative Christian news outlet OneNewsNow, Staver implied this was a sort of Trojan horse, wherein LGBT people would gain more rights by being protected from being murdered in a gruesome fashion. “The old saying is once that camel gets the nose in the tent, you can’t stop them from coming the rest of the way in,” he said. “This is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill, and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the juggler [sic] at some time in the future.”
This isn’t a new tactic for them. The organization is best known for defending embattled Kentucky clerk Kim Davis who resisted allowing same-sex couples to marry after the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for them to do so in all 50 states. In November, the bigoted group was adamant about Congress removing language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination when it was negotiating a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Contacted by Rolling Stone, a Liberty Counsel spokeswoman pointed to the organization’s statement on its website under the headline “False Reporting on Lynching Bill Endangers lives.”