Politics - Hate Crimes and Hate Crime Legislation
Hate Crime Laws have been on the books in the United States for years. But what are they? And why do some people feel we need them?
Hate crimes are crimes against community or society. They are different than other crimes because a specific group of people is being singled out for mistreatment or crime. Whether it is spray painting racial epithets on someone’s property or attacking them physically because of who they are, it has a negative effect on those people in the community who are of the same people group. It is one thing to be concerned because of a rise in burglaries. It is quite another to be fearful because of attacks against certain groups of people especially if you are the group being attacked. Thus some feel we need hate crime laws.
But what do hate crime laws do?
Hate crime laws either enhance the penalty for a crime done due to hatred or they provide federal funding for the investigation of a hate crime or they do both.
But isn’t all crime, crime? And shouldn’t crime whether it is due to mischief, theft, vandalism, or hatred be treated the same?
The law already makes distinctions due to motives. For example in murder trials the question that is asked is whether it was premeditated or not. First degree murder is where you preplan to commit a murder. Second degree murder is when you are in a fight and accidently murder someone. 3rd degree murder is all other kinds of murder such as vehicular homicide (unless it was premeditated) There are also crimes of passion. I am not going to explore all the complexities of murder law here. I raise this point to show that the law already allows for penalty based on intent.
Additionally, while it might be a stretch to say that the bible justifies hate crime laws, the bible does have different penalties depending on the intent of the perpetrator.
When we look at Deut 19:1-7 and (Joshua 20:2-4) we see that unintentional murder such as an axe head flying off and killing a neighbor is not punished the same as hating one’s neighbor and lying in wait to assault and kill him (Deuteronomy 19:11-13) . Additionally a person who kills another secretly or accepts a bribe to kill another is cursed (see Deuteronomy 27:24-25).
As a side note scripture also takes a position on a person’s responsibility and liability if their animal causes an accidental death. See Exodus 21:28-30. If, as the scripture says, an animal of its own accord kills another person the owner is not responsible or liable. However if the animal has a habit of harming or killing and the owner does nothing then the owner is also held accountable. Without going into every instance it is clear that the bible does call us to look at personal intent and personal responsibility in regards to punishment for crimes committed. I am sure there are those lawyers who will disagree with me but this is not a court case. All I am saying is that when crime occurs the bible does ask us to look at the intent of the person who committed the crime.
But why punish some crimes more than others. What purpose does it serve?
It serves the same purpose as other levels of penalties. If you get into an argument with someone and cause an uproar or disturbance that requires police intervention you may be charged with disturbing the peace. If you hit the individual you may be charged with simple assault. If you hit the person with a weapon you may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. If you kill them you may be charged with first or second degree murder. The charge matches the level of crime committed and the intention of the person committing the crime.
When crimes motivated by hate occur the enhanced penalty is there to send a message. The message is that the community will not tolerate committing crimes against people because they are black or white or Jewish or Muslim or gay... etc. In grade school we might call this bullying. If you are a teacher in the school and Johnnie gets into a fight that is one thing. But if Johnnie has a habit of getting into fights and deliberately picks on black people to fight with that is another thing. You will most likely deal with it more sternly than you would just a disagreement between friends that got out of hand. Sadly some individuals have never grown up and still think it is appropriate to hurt people that are different then themselves. When that happens, hate crimes laws and penalties send the message that this is not acceptable.
But don’t hate crime laws limit free speech?
No they do not. For a hate crime to have happened a crime must have occurred. If there is no crime then there is no arrest.
But couldn't someone be in trouble if their speech encouraged someone to kill someone else.
If someone conspired to kill someone else and talked to them about it then yes they would be in trouble. And they should be. But there is a difference between conspiring to commit a crime and exercising free speech. See also this link
Please see the main page for more discussion of free speech issues. You can also check out the main political page for an analysis for alleged free speech violations in the US and internationally.
Aren’t hate crime laws in other countries similar to what is being proposed in the United States?
NO. Anyone that tells you this is either misinformed or being deceptive. The laws are not the same. This is a standard smearing of the truth that many ‘Christian’ groups use (last time I checked the bible had something to say about being deceptive). The laws in other countries are hate speech laws NOT hate crime laws. Hate speech laws incriminate you for what you say. With hate crime laws you are incriminated for what you do. When you leave the United States you leave behind many of the free speech protections that are unique to our country. In other countries such as Canada and Sweden, free speech is still important but it is not as protected as it is here. Comparing other countries to the United States is like comparing apples and oranges
I have heard that a gay person being attacked because they are gay would get more protection than my grandma if she were mugged... Is this true?
I have heard this too. It is common Christian speak (unfortunately). As for the question, it depends on what you mean by protection. Both actions are crimes. Both people would be penalized. However, typically there are no hate crimes against grandmas. There are hate crimes against people who are lgbt, people of different races, and people of different religions etc. (Please see this FBI site for more information on hate crimes). That is why there is an added penalty. It’s because there is a concerted effort to hurt certain individuals or people groups.
The bills proposed in congress were not just about protecting lgbt individuals. They were about protecting people of different religious beliefs and different races. Therefore in the above question you could substitute a Christian, or Muslim, or black person, or Jewish person for the gay person. Let’s try this. Let’s re-ask the question…
If a black man gets mugged on the street and their attacker gets a bigger penalty because they hate blacks, does that mean the black person is more valuable than the grandma?
Does the question still sound good? I have a feeling it now sounds like bigotry. It sounds like bigotry because it is bigotry
Let’s make this clear...
· The hate crime bills proposed in Congress (in 2007 it was HR1592 and S1105) (have links) were NOT anti-free speech bills, they were NOT thought crime bills. They were bills that would give federal aid to determine whether crimes committed against certain persons were hate motivated.
· HR 1592 in particular had a free speech protection clause in it because of the pressure put on them by religious groups. I cover this in more detail on my research pages. (link)
· These bills do not ONLY protect lgbt individuals. They protect people of different races, and different religions. Therefore; foolish claims that the gay person on the street who was attacked due to his orientation would have more protection than someone attacked because they were a Christian are unfounded.
· The hate crime bills proposed in Congress are NOT similar to hate crime laws in other countries such as Canada or Sweden. Any statement such as this is FALSE. The bills proposed in congress required a crime to occur before any action would be taken. For bills in other countries the crime is the hate speech itself whether a crime was committed or not. Other countries have hate speech laws not hate crime laws. This is something our country will NEVER have. Likewise, hate speech laws have been on the books in other countries for decades, long before any so called “homosexual agenda” was around. Sweden's hate speech law, for example, was put into effect to deter Neo-Nazi groups in the 1940’s. (See link)
For more information on alleged free speech violations please see the main political page.