Friday, January 28, 2005

Will it be illegal to hate "hate crimes" laws?

The Utah legislature is debating "hate crimes" legislation again.

Discriminatory actions against a person based on their membership in a protected class are already against the law. Likewise, crimes against a person or property are already against the law. The law also differentiates between crimes of passion (e.g., manslaughter), and crimes of premeditation or intent (e.g., murder). But I think it's a slippery slope to enhance punishment for a crime against a person or property because of "actual bias or prejudice" in the heart or mind of the perpetrator.

First, it smacks too much of Orwell's "thought police". If a thought or belief means a criminal act deserves more punishment, how long until the thoughts or beliefs themselves are outlawed or punished? How soon until it's illegal to have "actual bias or prejudice" in your heart or mind? Or to say you hate "hate crimes" laws?

I believe homosexuality is wrong. If "hate crimes" legislation passes enhancing punishment for crimes against homosexuals, how soon until my beliefs are considered "actual bias or prejudice" (they already are) and are outlawed or punished? Will churches teaching traditional values lose tax-exempt status or have their property confiscated? Couldn't happen? Read this and this and weep.

Second, it's a free speech country ("Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech"), and -- so far -- a free thought country ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"). The Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam (usually) peacefully coexist. We may abhor the beliefs of both, but we should only punish their actions, not their thoughts or beliefs.

My religious tradition teaches:
2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. . . .

4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul. . . .

8 We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.
(Doctrine & Covenants 134:2, 4, 8).

I abhor homosexuality. Homosexuals abhor "bigoted" Christians like me. Should either be punished for their feelings? Or for saying so? In the current cultural sway, it seems "hate crimes" lean only one way -- right: liberal ideology is protected; conservative ideology is under attack.

And yet, a "self-described lesbian feminist activist", Tammy Bruce, has written The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds, which "cuts through the deluge of politically correct speech and thought codes to expose the dangerous rise of Left-wing McCarthyism." (I haven't actually read the book, but I like the title and the blurb).

A third problem with "hate crimes" legislation is that it divides instead of unites, and violates "equal justice under law". I don't think terrorists should be given the death penalty because they murder otherwise innocent "infidels" (i.e., non-Moslems). I think they should get the death penalty because they commit crimes against humanity. Likewise, we should punish crimes like assault, manslaughter, and murder and property crimes like vandalism and arson because they are crimes against a human being -- not because they are crimes against an "African-American", "Asian-American", "Danish-American", "born-again Christian-American", "middle-aged white male Mormon-American", etc. That's why I don't like "hate crimes" laws. (And it's OK: you don't have to like me. Freedom to dislike is American.).

UPDATE: Not in Sweden. A Pentacostal clergyman is convicted and sentenced to jail for denouncing homosexuality in Sunday sermon. Case is on appeal.

1 Comments:

Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Well-said. I have always opposed the idea of hate crimes, not because I believe hatred is a good thing or that certain acts should not be punished, but because I believe one's private thoughts, ideas, and prejudices are that person's own business. And I share your sense that classifying certain acts as hate crimes opens up a can of worms we are better off not having to deal with.

10:01 AM  

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