Robert Knight: Proposed Federal Law Would Be a Hate Crime Against America
This column originally appeared on Human Events on June 25, 2009.
“We’re not going to win this case, but that’s okay. Once we get ‘hate crime’ laws on the books, we’re going to go after the Scouts and all the other bigots.”
This was a remark made in the gallery by the Clinton White House liaison for “gay” issues during U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the Boy Scouts case in 2000. She had whispered it to the Rev. Rob Schenck, whom she mistakenly thought was one of those liberal clerics who think God is still making up His mind about sexual morality.
The point is that the proposed federal “hate crime” law before the Senate is less about righting wrongs than it is about elevating sexual preferences — all of them — to civil rights status so they can be used as a battering ram against people with traditional values.
“Hate crime” laws ensure unequal justice. They empower some groups of victims at the expense of others. A grandma using an ATM machine should have as much protection under the law as a man walking out of a “gay” bar. But under the proposed federal “hate crimes” law, an assailant of a man perceived as homosexual would face greater penalties than grandma’s mugger.
Today (Thursday, June 25), the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909), which passed the House on April 29 in a largely partisan vote of 249 to 175, with 10 abstentions.
Named after the Wyoming college student beaten to death in 1998 and whose killers received the maximum in a state without a hate crimes law, S. 909 is not only unnecessary but poses an acute threat to constitutional civil rights. It’s a massive federal power grab over state criminal law, giving the attorney general’s office the power to intervene into a “hate crime” case whenever they feel it is necessary.
It would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to a list of specially protected classes such as race, ethnicity, sex and religion. If this bill passes, the Congress of the United States will be officially creating a new civil rights category based on sexual confusion. Like “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” is infinitely flexible, and includes transvestitism (cross-dressing) and transsexualism (believing that one is in the wrong sex’s body and sometimes surgically changing one’s sex organs).
In the House version, an effort to amend the bill to exclude “pedophilia” was defeated in committee along party lines. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) even read a partial list of paraphilias from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including pedophilia, and declared that “all of these philias and fetishes and isms that were put forward — need not live in fear because of who they are.”
This is why some of the bill’s opponents call it the “Pedophile Protection Act.”
Here’s how the law would work in practice: It would add penalties on top of those levied for criminal convictions, based on the perpetrators’ perceived beliefs or the victims’ group identification. In order to prove that the defendant holds particular beliefs, his or her speech, writing, reading materials and organizational memberships would become key evidence. “Have you now, or have you ever been involved with a homophobic organization (like, say, Catholic Charities)?”
Two paragraphs were inserted to mollify such concerns:
(3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.
(4) “FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.”
But American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) attorney John Armor notes, “This is a head fake for citizens who don’t understand freedom of speech protections.”
Ken Klukowski, an ACRU senior legal analyst, explains, “Paragraph (3) is only a statement of the obvious, so it has no legal effect. No statute can abridge constitutionally-protected speech. If any speech is burdened, and the speaker files suit, then the process and the result is the same regardless of whether there is any paragraph such as (3). The court then looks to the speech in question, the nature of the burden on that speech, and what protection the First Amendment extends to that particular speech. The court does not look to language such as (3) in deciding the case. If the burden in the specific case is unconstitutional, then it’s impermissible whether the statute acknowledges the fact or not. So (3) is just there to help pass the bill by giving people a talking point to say ‘this law does nothing to violate anyone’s free speech rights.’ It makes no difference in court whatsoever.”
The bill also would create a federal slush fund for hate crime prevention programs at the state and local levels, including school programs that equate traditional morality with “bigotry.” The Justice Department’s “hate crime” section relies on material from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lumps legitimate conservative and Christian organizations with “hate groups.”
Besides its threats to basic freedoms, the law is unnecessary. America is not awash in an epidemic of hate crimes, which constitute a microscopic portion of the more than 11 million crimes reported in the United States annually. In the latest crime report released in October 2008 by the U.S. Justice Department for 2007, nearly 80 percent of the 7,624 incidents 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 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 victims at the expense of others. For example, homosexual activist groups descended on Wyoming and created a media circus around the Matthew Shepard case, costing the state heavily for public relations. Meanwhile, the story of Kristin Lamb, an eight-year-old girl who a month before Shepard’s death was killed in Wyoming and her body thrown into a landfill, received virtually no news coverage or concerns about a possible “hate crime.”
Hate crime laws lay the groundwork for assaults on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In Canada, Great Britain and Sweden, clergy have been investigated and arrested for advocating traditional morality.
“Hate crime” laws are already being used to silence people in the United States. A pastor in New York’s Staten Island saw two billboards with a Bible verse on them taken down in 2000 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 in 2004. 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.
Freedom-loving Americans deplore any violence against innocent victims (including homosexuals), but strongly oppose “hate crime” laws as unjust and dangerous. All people deserve impartial justice under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The proposed federal hate crime law imperils that cherished right on many levels.