09/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ted Kennedy: Fearless Leader in the Fight against Hate Crime

Senator Kennedy's prolific career spanned nearly five decades, during which he authored more than 2,500 bills in the U.S. Senate. Several hundred have become public law. This fall we hope to add yet another bill to that distinguished list - the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Ted Kennedy was one of the Senate's earliest champions in the fight against hate crime. Since the early 1990s, Senator Kennedy has called for better government response to the growing problem of violence motivated by racism, religious intolerance, sexual orientation bias or other similar factors. For example, in one of his most courageous political moments, Senator Kennedy argued in favor of legislation protecting those who face violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. He spoke out after realizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as those who seek to protect their rights, have been threatened by a particularly aggressive wave of bias-motivated violence.

Senator Kennedy later went to on to compare hate crimes to "acts of domestic terrorism" and worked tirelessly to pass hate crimes legislation in the Senate. In 2007, he joined Sen. Gordon Smith in a bipartisan effort to pass the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill failed to advance in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that not deter Senator Kennedy. He continued to fight, and just this year, the Senate adopted this critical measure as part of the Defense Authorization Bill.

Human Rights First is one of many U.S. rights groups supporting the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as it will help to ensure that law enforcement authorities have the tools they need to combat violent hate crime in the United States. This bill could prove to be one of the nation's strongest weapons to date to protect those who are most vulnerable to bias-motivated violence. These crimes -- including assaults on individuals, damage to homes and personal property, and attacks on places of worship, cemeteries, community centers, and schools -- undermine our shared values of equality and nondiscrimination, ideals that Senator Kennedy worked his whole life to promote.

Senator Ted Kennedy was a longtime friend of the human rights movement and a powerful supporter of social justice and democracy at home and throughout the world. He had a keen understanding of the courage and tenacity it takes to overcome adversity and to find the way forward when the odds seem insurmountable. This fall, we sincerely hope that President Obama will follow in his footsteps by signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

Watch Human Rights First's Tribute to Edward Moore Kennedy.