Acting on a petition filed by the Christianist group Repent America, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that struck down that state’s 2002 hate crimes law, saying it was inappropriately attached to an unrelated bill.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision striking down amendments that added sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, gender, and mental and physical disability to the state hate crime law. The law, known as the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act, was amended in 2002 to include protections for these groups by a two-thirds majority of the state legislature. Then-governor Mark Schweiker signed it into law.
The lower court ruled last November that the law was invalid because it had been tacked onto another, nonrelated bill. The ruling did not criticize the content of the law, only the way in which it had been passed. “We are extremely disappointed that some of the most vulnerable people in Pennsylvania are now unprotected by our state’s hate crimes law,” Equality Advocates Pennsylvania said in a statement.
Stephen Glassman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said that the court ruling will make it more difficult to fight hate crimes. “It is vitally important for our agency to be able to respond to every act of hate and bias in the Commonwealth no matter who the victim may be,” said Galssman. “We must protect the rights of people to be free from these hate crimes just as surely as we protect them on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity or national origin.”
Last year Gov. Ed Rendell asked the legislature to enact legislation reinstating the bill, but there has been no action thus far.