The American Civil Liberties Union is requesting that Senate Bill 909, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, be amended to include additional free-speech protections that are already contained in the House version of the legislation, H.R. 1913.

According to The Washington Blade:

Linda Paris, an ACLU spokesperson, told the Blade that [Sen. Sam] Brownback’s [free-speech] amendment is insufficient and that her organization wants the specific language found in the House version of legislation included in the final passage of the bill.

The language ACLU is seeking reads: “Evidence of expression or association of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing the impeachment of a witness.”

Paris said passage of this provision from the House bill would “reduce or eliminate the possibility that the federal government could obtain a criminal conviction on the basis of evidence of speech that had no role in the chain of events that led to any alleged violent act proscribed by the statute.”

The Human Rights Campaign contends that the legislation’s existing protection for religious speech is sufficient. Nevertheless, Chris Anders of the ACLU says House lawmakers are likely to insist upon the revision in conference committee.