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Hate Crimes Laws – needed reform or threat to free speech?11 min read

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hatecrimesI was watching Truths that Transform this week, and during the social action part of the program, his organization and a spokesperson for Concerned Women for America talked about the threat to free speech that hate crimes and hate speech laws pose, especially to churches that want to preach about the immorality of homosexuality.  Below, I present their argument, which I mostly agree with, with the caveats I mention.

But here’s the executive summary:   Hate crimes laws are redundant with existing laws that cover those same crimes, can demand punishments out of proportion with the crime, and are Trojan horses for ushering in hate speech laws which threaten the free speech of opponents, usually to liberal social policy, by erroneously equating disagreement and moral criticism with hate.

1. Are hate crimes worse than ‘regular’ crimes?

They do inspire more fear, because crimes based on ideology, rather than just personal corruption and things like drug abuse, seem more premeditated.  But the fact is, the crime itself is of the same magnitude no matter what the motive.  Is a racially-motivated murder worse than one done for money?  Is the rape and murder of a woman any less heinous or hateful than that of a gay by heteros?  Are the threats and intimidation of a mafioso demanding protection payment any worse than the threats of gang members who sell drugs on the corner and control the commerce and traffic in a neighborhood?

Threats and intimidation should be treated with equal censure.  If minorities feel like the punishments for those intimidating them are not enough, the answer is not to create special laws for them, but to treat all such intimidation as equally heinous, and if need be, strengthen existing law.

We do not need a separate code for hate crimes that is more severe than the punishments for the same crimes motivated by some other hatred, fear, addiction, or greedy reason.  The downside of having stricter laws for such crimes is that often, these new rules are now used to disproportionately punish people who are accused of being motivated by some specific and more “evil” hate, but are really not.  While we may want to assess whether an action was premeditated or not, our judicial system should not be in the business of assessing motive – the detective solving a crime might need that, but the judge needs to look at the crime itself.

I know some will nit pick and disagree, but my main point is that assessing motive in court is a fools errand, and having a separate code of punishment for the same crimes is not only wasting our time being redundant, it is rife with the potential for injustice.

2. Remember Matthew Shepard?

Matthew Shepard was a gay man who was brutally murdered by two heterosexuals.  The tragic murder, however, has been leveraged by the pro-gay lobby to not only raise awareness of anti-LGBT violence and intimidation, it has been used to champion legislation to punish such crimes.  And while the awareness is good, the legislation is problematic.

Complicating the story is the testimony of the killers in this case.  The killers were drug dealers who had previous drug dealings with Shepard, and one of them actually testified that he beat up Shepard, not based on his orientation, but based on the affect the drugs had on him.

Former Laramie Police Detective Ben Fritzen, one of the lead investigators in the case, also believed robbery was the primary motive.  “Matthew Shepard’s sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn’t the motive in the homicide,”  he said.

“If it wasn’t Shepard, they would have found another easy target. What it came down to really is drugs and money and two punks that were out looking for it,” Fritzen said.

‘All I Wanted to Do Was Beat Him Up and Rob

Asked directly whether he targeted and attacked Shepard because he was gay, McKinney told Vargas, “No. I did not. … I would say it wasn’t a hate crime. All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him.”

But if the attackers were just trying to rob someone to get a drug fix, why did they beat Shepard so savagely?

Rerucha attributes McKinney’s rage and his savage beating of Shepard to his drug abuse. “The methamphetamine just  fueled to this point where there was no control. It was a horrible, horrible, horrible murder. It was a murder that was once again driven by drugs,” Rerucha said.

Dr. Rick Rawson, a professor at UCLA who has studied the link between methamphetamine and violence, tells “20/20” the drug can trigger episodes of violent behavior.

“In the first weeks after you’ve stopped using it, the kinds of triggers that can set off an episode are completely unpredictable. It can be: you say a word with the wrong inflection, you touch someone on the shoulder. It’s completely unpredictable as to what will set somebody off” Rawson said.

“If Aaron McKinney had not become involved with methamphetamine, Matthew Shepard would be alive today,” Rerucha said.

This complication does not lessen the horror of the murder, but it does mean that the pro-gay lobby is really just using this high visibility case to push their cause.

3. How many hate-based crimes are committed each year, and how many against gays?

In 2005, FBI statistics on hate crime show that of the 7163 incidents, 1017 were related to sexual orientation.  That is significant, and it is important to note that only 21 of them were anti-heterosexual crimes.  So we see that gays are victims of this type of crime more than non-gays.

So activists may have a point in raising awareness, but if they want to create laws, they need to consider the impact, abuse, and limits of such laws.

4. Remember Jesse Dirkhising?

Jesse Dirkhising, 13 years old, was brutally tortured, raped, and killed by a male homosexual couple.  The left-leaning press ignored it, but the lefties were unapologetic:

On 4 November 1999, Jonathan Gregg addressed the issue in Time magazine. He asked: “Could it be because we in the media elite were unwilling to publicize crimes committed by homosexuals because it didn’t suit our agenda? The next stop in that line of reasoning was clear: That news is controlled by a bunch of gay-loving liberals only too happy to wield a double standard.”

In his opinion, Gregg wrote that the discrepancy in media attention was:

Because it [Dirkhising] offered no lessons. Shepard’s murder touches on a host of complex and timely issues: intolerance, society’s attitudes toward gays and the pressure to conform, the use of violence as a means of confronting one’s demons. Jesse Dirkhising’s death gives us nothing except the depravity of two sick men. There is no lesson here, no moral of tolerance, no hope to be gleaned in the punishment of the perpetrators.”

No lesson?  How about that such crimes are often NOT hate-related, but are nonetheless as heinous as any other? I’m glad that heteros are not using this to pimp their own brand of needless, redundant hate-crimes legislation.  But of course, they don’t have the associated social agenda that the pro-gay lobby does, and THAT is the real difference here.

5. How hate crimes laws are used to usher in hate speech laws

Again, I am not justifying hate crimes, and let me also say that I am not justifying speech that directly incites violence.  But what I am saying is this – hate crimes laws can not be divorced from hate speech laws, and these are nothing more than the blasphemy laws of the secularist, pro-gay left.

In an effort to rightly quash speech that directly incites violence against gays, in their mistaken idea of what hate is, they are also quashing all moral criticism of their sexual identity and lifestyle.  To them, it’s just discriminatory, which is hate (everything is hate to the left).

But here’s the chilling effect – who else will seek such protections?  How about Muslims who don’t want their Shariah law publicly criticized or judged?   In fact, this is exactly what they DO, but these laws are called blasphemy laws. And what we are seeing on both of these poles, both fanatical left and religious right, are the erosion of free speech rights, ushered in within the Trojan Horse of unneeded hate crimes legislation.

6. What we SHOULD do about crime and ideologies that encourage it

Look, all crime is hateful on one level.  I mean, should we convict a black youth of a hate crime because the misogynistic rap music he listened to motivated him?  Should we ban all misogynistic lyrics and jail those who use them?  Of course not.

The answers are simple, and current law covers them.

  • Violent crime is a crime is a crime, and should be persecuted and punished as we do today.  The rape or murder of an individual is not any less awful just because it was done out of lust than hate.
  • Speech that DIRECTLY incites violence should be illegal, just like libel or slander, and appropriate punishments, be they fines or jail time, should be determined.
  • Speech that is derisive, demeaning, or profane, or abusive, though regrettable, is not a crime.  If it were, half the rap albums on the stands would be illegal.  What do we do with such speech?  We label it to protect children, and maybe we restrict it’s sale.  But that’s it.  The white supremacist and the atheist who hates religion both have the opportunity to have their say and let society and public opinion decide their case, as long as they are not directly inciting violence.
  • Moral disapproval is NOT hate speech, EVEN if the speaker is motivated by hate, disgust, or disapproval.  Even if SOME people take such speech and use it to justify or motivate themselves in their own violent acts, this speech can not be considered illegal.  Inciting disgust or disapproval is not a crime – otherwise people of all ideological stripes would be stripped of their right to criticize, even judge others publicly.

Hate crimes legislation is really a waste of the taxpayers time, and is almost exclusively used by the pro-gay lobby towards one end – to garner social and legal acceptance of the gay lifestyle, and to squelch critics by taking away their rights of free speech.  Christians should be wary of any such hate crimes legislation, and be willing to endure the puerile accusations of hate as they examine every proposed law for such anti-freedom and anti-American efforts.  We don’t want violence, but we don’t want the liberal blasphemy laws to clamp down on what we say or think.  That’s what fascists do.