President Clinton Speaks Out Against Hate Crime

Declaring the right of gay Americans to pursue their lives "free of fear," President Clinton strongly backed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Tuesday, April 6 and urged its passage by Congress this year.

The act would expand federal jurisdiction over hate crimes committed not just for race or religious bias, but also because of sexual orientation, gender, and/or disability.

Clinton also said he would ask the Departments of Justice and Education to investigate the incidence of hate crimes at schools and on college campuses.

"College," said Clinton, "[is] the place where we're supposed to have the most freedom, the place where we're supposed to be the most rational, the place where we're supposed to think the highest thoughts with the greatest amount of space. We have significant hate crime problems there, and we need to shine a light on that."

The President also

spoke of launching educational programs that would give middle-school students the chance to discuss tolerance with their peers.

Clinton's announcement comes just one day after 21-year-old Russell Henderson was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences after he pled guilty to the kidnapping and murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

Meanwhile in Texas, the second defendant in the dragging death of James Byrd will have a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, April 20. And on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Florida, a six-year-old girl of mixed-race parentage was shot to death by a 17-year-old neo-Nazi skinhead who had allegedly fired an assault rifle at her family's home. The girl's twin sister was critically injured in the incident.

In March, MTV conducted a poll on the issue and elicited these diverse responses from students across America [Real Video].

To get in touch with your local politician

on this issue, visit Project Vote Smart at www.vote-smart.org. And for more on what you can do to take a stand on violence, visit www.fightforyourrights.mtv.com.