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3 Michigan ministers say U.S. hate crimes act is unconstitutional

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The head of the American Family Association of Michigan is appealing a court ruling that upheld a federal hate crime law.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was expanded in 2009 to protect people victimized because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Gary Glenn claims the law is unconstitutional because of the threat it poses to free speech:

"The concern is that simply making a statement on your radio program or from a pulpit could be interpreted at some point in the future as having induced or encouraged someone to commit an act of violence."

Supporters of the law say only acts of willful violence can be prosecuted, not sermons.

Three Michigan ministers are also plaintiffs in the case, including pastor Jim Combs of Waterford.

We want to make sure that it is crystal clear that the government does not have the ability to step into the pulpits of America," explains Combs.

Rene Ouellette of Bridgeport, and Levon Yuille of Ypsilanti are also listed as plaintiffs.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the case.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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