SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina is one of two states without a hate crimes law on the books.
However, a proposed hate crimes bill, which is now stalled in the Senate, would help to increase penalties for violent crimes or mob attacks motivated by a person’s skin color, gender or sexual orientation.

South Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce along with nearly a hundred businesses and many faith-based organizations from across the state are documenting their support for some sort of hate crime bill to be passed.

Ten senators, mostly from the upstate are blocking the opportunity for debate on the bill.

State chamber officials said that a hate crimes bill can be good for attracting new industries to the state. While those who have experienced the violent side of hate say adding stronger penalties may serve as a deterrent.

House Bill 3620 also known as, the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act, said if the law can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a violent act was committed because of a person’s skin color, gender or sexuality, the bill would provide additional penalties for the offender and allow victims to bring civil action for damages.

With bi-partisan support, the statehouse passed the bill in 2021, but it remains stalled in the senate.

Representative Wendell Gilliard is one of the bill’s authors.

“We need a hate crime law, we need this bill to move forward, we have to send a statement, make a statement to the state and the country.” Author of the Clementa Pinckney Hate Crime Bill, Charleston (D) Representative Wendell Gilliard said.

The bill is named after the late senator and pastor Clementa Pinckney who was killed in a racist attack along with eight other parishioners at Emanuel A-M-E Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Blondelle Gadsden’s sister, Myra Thompson was killed in that same attack.

“From what we were told, they went through the whole bible study, they got to the end, they stood up to say the prayer and that’s when he pulled out the gun and started shooting, so.” her sister, Myra Thompson was killed in Emanuel AME shooting, Blondelle Gadsden said.

Shooter Dylann Roof was convicted on 33 Federal Hate Crime charges, which included nine counts of hate crime murder and nine counts of obstructing religion with murder.

However, there is no hate crime charge at the state level.

Gadsden, a lifelong member of Mother Emanuel Church, spoke in front of the house of representatives about the need to pass a hate crime law.

“None of what we are trying to do is going to help the nine individuals, but I don’t want to feel like their lives were in vain, and if nothing else comes of it then South Carolina recognizes that there are acts of hatred that are perpetrated towards others for all sorts of different reasons, but it is our responsibility to hold them accountable for those things,” Gadsden said.

The reason that bill is stalled now is because of more than 10 Republican Senators who are objecting. 7 news reached out to all ten of them, we heard back from one. Senator Josh Kimbrell of Spartanburg.

“There’s a lot of references in that bill about gender identity, sexual orientation and even the best decision refers to is so broad that it can be used to essentially force even Christian university, colleges and schools and churches for that matter to hire folks who openly oppose their statement of faith.” State Senator, Spartanburg (R), Josh Kimbrell said.

One attorney said the reasoning behind Senator Kimbrell’s objection is legally unfounded.

His concern is connected to how the bill is written, which uses the definition of “sex” from the Bostock versus Clayton County Case. In it, the definition of sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity which the senator believes could be used to hold religious leaders and organizations accountable for social media posts or messages given in religious settings.

Brittany Arsiniega is an attorney and assistant professor at Furman University. She said passing this hate crime bill doesn’t erase current state laws.

“Simply having this definition in the hates crime bill doesn’t magically expand that definition to all areas of South Carolina law. There is still such thing as first amendment protected speech. so you are still permitted under federal law under South Carolina law to say that you don’t like trans people, that you don’t like gay people. our constitution protects speech, even speech that is ugly.” Attorney & Assistant Professor, Furman University, Brittany Arsiniega said.

Senator Kimbrell wants to remove the wording that highlights penalties in connection to a person’s sexual identity.

“When I’ve had conversations with some of my Democratic colleagues, I’ve said if you work on this issue as it pertains to gender identity and what I believe could be a danger to religious liberty, then I’m open to removing my objection.” Senator Kimbrell said.

The bill’s supporters said, they are willing to compromise and are open to discussion, but time is of the essence.

More than six years have passed since the murders of nine African Americans at Emanuel A-M-E Church in Charleston. If senators do not pass this proposed bill by the end of this session next week, the process will have to start again.

The bill as originally written would have allowed additional punishment for harassment, but the house removed vandalism and harassment from the proposal before passing it last year.