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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, earlier in the day, there was the attempt of my friend and colleague, Senator Smith, to at least try to propose an amendment that deals with hate crimes and try to get it into an order and to be able to have consideration of that amendment during the Defense authorization bill. There has been objection. I can understand the importance of the underlying amendment. I certainly believe that underlying amendment has great significance and importance, and we are going to have an opportunity, I believe, tomorrow to vote on it.

I wish to indicate I have every intention, with Senator Smith, of offering at some time the hate crimes legislation. I know the question comes up: Why are we offering hate crimes legislation on a Defense authorization bill? The answer is very simple: The Defense authorization bill is dealing with the challenges of terrorism, and the hate crimes issue--to try to get a handle on the problems of hate crimes, we are talking about domestic terrorism. We have our men and women who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world fighting for American values. One of the values we have as Americans is the recognition that we do not believe individuals ought to be singled out because of their race, religion or sexual orientation and be the subject of hate attack.

This has been an ongoing and continuing issue for our country. At another time, I will get into greater detail about the nature of the challenges we are facing on this particular issue. We passed hate crime legislation at the time of Dr. King, but it was somewhat restrictive in terms of its application. We have been reminded about this challenge probably most dramatically with Mr. Shepard out in the Wyoming countryside, who was selected to be a victim of a hate crime and suffered a horrific death.

I, for one, and I think others do, understand we have voted on this on other Defense authorization bills. It has been carried on other Defense authorization bills. I know my friend and colleague, Senator Smith, would not have taken an unreasonable period of time. We have voted on this issue. We voted in 2004 and in 2000 on this issue. Members are familiar with the substance of the issue. So we don't need a great deal of time. We are glad to cooperate with the floor managers in terms of the time.

I didn't want to let the afternoon go by and leave any doubt. I have had the opportunity to mention this to Senator Levin on other occasions. I mentioned it, as well, to our majority leader, Senator Reid, who has been supportive. I know Senator Levin has been supportive of the substance of it. It seems to me we are talking about Defense authorization and we are talking effectively about the national security and about the values of our country and why our men and women are involved in defending our country and these values. Certainly, we ought to be able to say, as we are dealing with the problem of hatred and violence around the world, that we will battle hatred and violence as it is applied here at home.

As I mentioned, at another time I will go into detail on the history of the legislation and, again, the reasons for it and the facts on this particular issue in recent times.

At a time when our ideals are under attack by terrorists in other lands, it is more important than ever to demonstrate that we practice what we preach, and that we are doing all we can to root out the bigotry and prejudice in our own country that leads to violence here at home.

Crimes motivated by hate because of the victim's race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability, or gender are not confined to the geographical boundaries of our great Nation. The current conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and Rwanda, or the Holocaust itself demonstrate that violence motivated by hate is a world-wide danger, and we have a special responsibility to combat it here at home.

This amendment will strengthen the Defense Authorization Act by protecting those who volunteer to serve in the military. The vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction. These men and women put their lives on the line to ensure our freedom and for that, we are truly grateful. Sadly, our military bases are not immune from the violence that comes from hatred.

In 1992, Allen Schindler, a sailor in the Navy was viciously murdered by two fellow sailors because of his sexual orientation. Seven years later, PFC Barry Winchell, an infantry soldier in the Army, was brutally slain for being perceived as gay. These incidents prompted the military to implement guidelines to prevent this type of violence, but there is more that we can do. We have to send a message that these crimes won't be tolerated against any member of society.

A disturbing trend has also been discovered in the military. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that members of hate groups have been entering into the military. As recruiters struggle to fulfill their quotas, they are being forced to accept recruits who may be extremists, putting our soldiers at higher risk of hate motivated violence. This can't be tolerated. We must stem the tied of hatred and bigotry by sending a loud and clear message that hate crimes will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Since the September 11 attacks, we've seen a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed against Muslims, Sikhs, and Americans of Middle Eastern descent. Congress has done much to respond to the vicious attacks of September 11. We have authorized the use of force against terrorists and those who harbor them in other lands. We have enacted legislation to provide aid to victims and their families, to strengthen airport security, to improve the security of our borders, to strengthen our defenses against bioterrorism, and to give law enforcement and intelligence officials enhanced powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.

Protecting the security of our homeland is a high priority, and there is more that we should do to strengthen our defenses against hate that comes from abroad. There is no reason why Congress should not act to strengthen our defenses against hate that occurs here at home.

Hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. Like other acts of terrorism, hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victims. They are crimes against entire communities, against the whole nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded. They are a violation of all our country stands for.

Since the September 11 attacks, the Nation has been united in our effort to root out the cells of hatred around the world. We should not turn a blind eye to acts of hatred and terrorism here at home.

Attorney General Ashcroft put it well when he said:

Just as the United States will pursue, prosecute, and punish terrorists who attack America out of hatred for what we believe, we will pursue, prosecute and punish those who attack law-abiding Americans out of hatred for who they are. Hatred is the enemy of justice, regardless of its source.

Now more than ever, we need to act against hate crimes and send a strong message here and around the world that we will not tolerate crimes fueled by hate.

The Senate should not hesitate in condemning countries that tolerate crimes motivated by the victim's race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. Hate is hate regardless of what nation it originates in. We can send a strong message about the need to eradicate hate crimes throughout the world by passing this hate crimes amendment to the Defense Department Authorization Bill.

We should not shrink now from our role as the beacon of liberty to the rest of the world. The national interest in condemning bias-motivated violence in the United States is great, and so is our interest in condemning bias-motivated violence occurring world-wide.

The hate crimes amendment we are offering today condemns the poisonous message that some human beings deserve to be victimized solely because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation and must not be ignored. This action is long overdue. When the Senate approves this amendment, we will send a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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