Hate Crimes' Slippery Slope
On May 3rd the U. S. House of Representatives voted 237 to 180 to pass H.R. 1592, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act."
The legislation would make it a federal offense for anyone or group to attack another "out of a 'hatred' for their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability."
It was introduced by Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) and Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk (R.) The Senate version of the bill is referred to as the "Matthew Shepard Act."
This proposed legislation is sure to get increased attention in the coming weeks as the Senate bill comes to a vote. Speculation heightens as to whether or not the president - who has discovered his veto pen - will sign it.
In a recent column, George Will asserts that the president will not sign it because "it is moral exhibitionism by Congress with no constitutional authorization. HR 1592 justifies itself under Congress's enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce. The bill simply asserts that hate crimes affect such commerce."
And if you think the current coarsening of public discourse is troubling, just wait until you witness the "interstate" shock and awe that will be let lose by the peripatetic politically correct thought-police gerbils as the legislation nears the president's desk.
Hate crime legislation is nothing new on the political landscape. The first federal statute was enacted in 1968 to protect voting rights, for example.
According to the "Anti-Defamation League," 45 states have various "hate crime" statutes on the books.
Most of us, on a basic common sense level, will agree that any crime is repugnant, but senseless crimes perpetrated as a result of some pathological hatred are particularly abhorrent.
But what is a "hate crime" as opposed to a senseless act of violence. Most of us know a hate crime when we see - but defining it, now there's the rub.
In spite of the fact that the legislation is being touted as "bi-partisan," when the legislation passed out of the House Judiciary Committee April 25, the 23 Democrats on the committee voted for it and all 17 Republican members voted against it. It was dubbed the "Thought Crimes Act of 2007."
So, why all the angst?
On the surface, it certainly appears worthy.
George Will calls to our attention that the bill is supported by "more than 200 organizations," including the American Music Therapy Association, the Aplastic Anemia Foundation of America, Catholics for a Free Choice, Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries, the International Dyslexia Association, Rock the Vote, and the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics & Ritual. Who knew?"
Well, perhaps Timothy Lynch, the director of The Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, "knows better," and said it well in his testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
(It would behoove anyone who wants to give this legislation serious reflection to read his testimony. It can be found at www.cato.org/testimony/ct-tl04172007.html. )
Mr. Lynch said, in part, that the "proponents of hate crimes legislation have good and honorable intentions. They would like to see less bigotry and more good will in American society. While I share that goal, I believe Congress should decline the invitation to enact hate crimes legislation for both constitutional and practical reasons."
The introductions of his various points to consider included Constitutional issues: "Crime is a serious problem, but under the U.S. Constitution it is a matter to be handled by state and local government."
On practical policy levels, Mr. Lynch notes: "First, it is imperative that federal law enforcement focus on foreign threats, such as al-Qaeda. Second, all of the violent acts that would be prohibited under the proposed bill are already crimes under state law.
"Third, a federal law is not going to prevent anything. Fourth, it is important to note that the whole concept of 'hate crimes' is fraught with definitional difficulties. Hate crimes generally refer to criminal conduct motivated by prejudice.
"Fifth, proponents of hate crime legislation believe that such laws will increase tolerance in our society and reduce intergroup conflict. I believe hate crime laws may well have the opposite effect."
Significantly, it should be pointed out that this legislation would include violence against a person because of his or her "actual or perceived" sexual orientation or "gender identity".
And it is here; with the words "actual or perceived" that the wheels start flying off what many can agree is a well-intentioned protection gone awry.
This is where Mr. Lynch's sixth point in his testimony resonates as a bit too spooky. Mr. Will paraphrased it well: ".prosecutors of supposed hate crimes must pry into defendants' lives - books and magazines read, Internet sites visited, the nature of his or her friends - to uncover evidence of unsavory thinking."
"Hate crimes are seven one-hundredths of one percent of all crimes, and 60.5 percent of them consist of vandalism (e.g., graffiti) or intimidation (e.g., verbal abuse)," Mr. Will says.
Considering those statistics, as anathematic as "hate crimes" are, one could suggest that the legislation is a solution in search of a problem.
Yes, it is easily understood that - for the victim of a hate crime - the reality of the senselessness is all too real.
But aren't there ample local government and state statutes to address these crimes of violence without inviting the federal government to get out a crystal ball to interpret our thoughts and motivations?
This is a "big brother" slippery slope that should frighten everyone.
One final unpleasant note, as called to our attention in numerous published accounts, but Mr. Will said it best: "Some writings by the killer at Virginia Tech expressed hatred of the rich, but they are not a category protected in this year's hate-crime legislation. Perhaps in next year's. Complications multiply, protected categories proliferate. Next? People who wear fur or eat meat?"
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org