Robert Knight: Federal ‘Hate Crime’ Law Would Imperil Civil Rights
This column originally appeared on Townhall.com on March 02, 2009
A grandma using an ATM machine should have at least as much protection under the law as a man walking out of a “gay” bar. But under “hate crimes” laws that include “sexual orientation,” an assailant of a man perceived as homosexual would be subjected to greater penalties than grandma’s mugger.
As part of his long list of payoffs to the powerful homosexual lobby, President Obama has pledged to sign a federal “hate crimes” bill at the first opportunity.
He may soon get a chance. On January 9, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) introduced “The David Ray Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009″ (HR 256), which is a stripped-down version of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act/Matthew Shepard Act of 2007” (H.R. 1592 / S. 1105), which failed to pass in the last Congress.
“David’s Law,” is not only unnecessary but poses an acute threat to constitutionally established civil rights. It would add “sexual orientation” to a list of specially protected classes. It would also create penalties on top of criminal convictions, based on the perpetrators’ perceived beliefs, and create a federal slush fund for hate crime prevention programs for juveniles at the state and local level. Finally, it constitutes yet another abuse of the Commerce Clause, using it to justify federal intervention on the flimsiest tie-ins to interstate trade.
While it might sound good on the surface (nobody is for hate crimes) the law is profoundly dangerous. It helps build the legal foundation for eventually violating the freedoms of speech, association and religion. It violates the constitutional concept of equal protection under the law. It expands the un-American concept of “thought crime,” in which someone’s actions are “more” illegal depending on thoughts or beliefs.
In the latest crime statistics released in October 2008 by the U.S. Justice Department for 2007, nearly 80 percent of “hate crimes” listed in “crimes against persons” involved “intimidation” (47.4 percent) or “simple assault” (31.1 percent), which could involve nothing more than words. The proposed law, in effect, would make federal cases out of name-calling.
Per capita, the most vulnerable class is young, African-American men who are victims of other young, African-American men. The campaign for “hate crime” laws diverts attention from the unfolding tragedy in urban areas. Furthermore, there is no evidence that “hate crime” victims receive any less law enforcement attention than victims of other crimes.
The proposed federal hate crime law, like all hate crime laws, politicizes crime, leading to pressure on police and prosecutors to devote more of their limited resources to certain cases at the expense of other crime victims’ cases.
It also vastly expands the power and jurisdiction of the federal government to intervene in local law enforcement matters, once a crime is called a “hate crime.”
Liberal activists increasingly invoke such phrases as “hostile speech” and a “climate of violence” to describe pro-family opinion. Legitimate opinion and free speech are thus recast as “hate speech” that can be suppressed via creeping judicial activism.
“Hate crime” laws are already being used to silence people who speak publicly against homosexuality in the United States and Canada.
A pastor in New York saw his billboard with a Bible verse on it taken down under pressure from city officials, who cited “hate crime” rhetoric.
In Philadelphia, 11 Christians were arrested and jailed overnight for singing and preaching in a public park at a homosexual street festival. Five of them were bound over and charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors, totaling a possible 47 years in jail. These charges, based on Pennsylvania’s “hate crimes” law, hung over them for months until a judge finally dismissed them.
In Canada, a newspaper publisher and a man who placed a newspaper ad faced jail and were fined $4,500 each, merely for running an ad containing references to several Bible verses regarding homosexuality.
Freedom-loving Americans deplore any violence against innocent victims (including homosexuals), but we strongly oppose as unjust and dangerous the entire concept of federal “hate crimes” legislation.
All people deserve to see the law enforced impartially and in keeping with the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law. The proposed federal hate crime law imperils that cherished right.