By Charles Bassett, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new hate crimes bill before the U.S. Senate is sparking criticism among conservative Christians. The Matthew Shepard Act extends hate crime protections to gays, lesbians and transgender Americans.

But one local pastor said the legislation could also criminalize free speech.

Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond does not support the Matthew Shepard Act. He said when other nations implemented similar laws, they have been used to censor the speech of pastors.

"In Sweden, they arrested a pastor for preaching out of the bible in Romans chapter one what the bible has to say about homosexuality. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in prison," said Reverend Blair.

The proposed law is named after Matthew Shepard, a man killed in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay.

It's an extension a current hate crimes law that gives protection based on someone's race or religion.

But Blair said if his words against homosexuality causes someone to go out and attack a gay person, under the proposed law, it's possible he could be prosecuted.

"What this does is creates a special class and then incentives prosecution for those who are guilty of the perceived hate crimes," Rev. Blair said.

"This is just not going to happen. That's just not going to happen and a huge number of religious organizations don't think it's going to happen either because they've signed on as sponsors," said Margaret Cox with Cimmaron Alliance.

Margaret Cox is with the Cimarron Alliance, a group that advocates for gay, lesbian and transgendered people in Oklahoma. She said the legislation is overdue.

"The laws are not on the books certainly in Oklahoma and not in most states, and not federal laws to protect gays and lesbians. And because of this there are no statistics kept on how man hate crimes are committed against gays and lesbians," said Cox.

A recent Gallup Poll showed 68 percent of Americans, many with religious affiliations, support hate crimes legislation for gays. Learn more about the Gallup Poll.

The legislation passed the House and is now in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.