First, the committee — controlled by majority Democrats, of course — inserted the hate crimes measure into the House bill, where it had not been before. Then lawmakers made some crucial changes to Brownback’s amendment. Where Brownback had insisted, and the full Senate had agreed, that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights, the conference changed the wording to read that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights “unless the government demonstrates … a compelling governmental interest” to do otherwise.

That means your First Amendment rights are protected — unless they’re not.

The bill was finished. When it was returned to the House last week for final passage, there was just one vote; lawmakers could either vote for the whole package or against it. They could vote to fund the troops, which would also mean voting for the hate crimes bill, or they could vote against the hate crimes provision, which would also mean voting against funding the troops.

At decision time, 131 of the Republicans most opposed to the hate crimes measure voted against the whole bill. Their vote “against the troops” will no doubt be used against them in next year’s campaign, which was of course the Democratic plan all along. The bill passed anyway, with overwhelming Democratic support.