By Bartholomew Sullivan
A group of Memphis pastors is encouraging people to call and write the offices of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and other supporters of a hate crimes bill they believe restricts their right to preach against homosexuality.
The bill, which has already passed the House, provides federal assistance to local law enforcement to prosecute hate crimes. It is expected to come up for a Senate vote this week.
“It’s a very hot potato,” said the Rev. Chester Berryhill of the New Philadelphia Baptist Church near Poplar and Mendenhall. “This thing is bigger than the issue of abortion or anything else that’s ever come up… You’ve got both sides on the abortion issue, but on this issue, it’s really stirring up the ministers I’ve been talking to, black and white.”
The Rev. LaSimba Gray of the New Sardis Baptist Church on East Holmes said he is a part of the Cohen letter-writing campaign and referred a caller to the Web site for Memphis City Churches (mphscc.org). There, sample letters asking Cohen to reconsider his vote are provided. One reads in part: “This bill could quite possibly limit my right to share my faith on the subject of homosexuality.”
The Web site advises callers to Cohen’s office to “expect to be told that you have been misinformed.”The Web page provides links to the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association campaign to kill the bill in the Senate, the Washington-based Family Research Council’s analysis of the bill and the Anaheim, Calif.-based Traditional Values Coalition’s examination of the Senate’s “tactic to push the homosexual agenda.” The Memphis coalition lists an address in the Poplar Plaza shopping center.