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Why I Hate Hate Crime Laws

Outlaw "hate crimes?" It seems like a good idea at first glance. After all, who is in favor of people hating each other and committing crimes because of that hatred? But is legislation really the solution to people believing and saying things we don't like? I don't think so.

Some advocates might point out that hate crime legislation just adds additional penalties to actions which are already crimes. This has been true so far in the United States. It may not always be true, but more on that in a moment. The question here, is if it is right to legislate additional punishment because of a person's belief. In other words, theft has a penalty under the law, but should the thief get extra punishment because he felt some animosity towards the group the victim belonged to?

Remember that we already have a law that makes his crime punishable. To go further because of his beliefs - isn't that trying to make thought a crime of it's own? Do we really want to get into the policing of people's thoughts and beliefs? It certainly seems contrary to our "freedom of speech" tradition.

Now, if part of the process of our justice system is going to base sentences on the likelihood of the criminal re-offending, the judge can take racist remarks and beliefs into account. I don't see a problem with that. If a criminal says, "I hate (insert group here), so I want to kill them all," why wouldn't we consider this at the time of sentencing.

On the other hand, if a violent criminal repeatedly assaults woman, why should he get less punishment under the law than a criminal who happens to hate the race or religion of the person he assaults? Both may be very likely to re-offend, but let a judge take that into account. A hate crime law is simply too indiscriminate, and too intolerant.

Intolerant? Yes! The idea behind the law is that we (society - the majority) don't like your beliefs, so as soon as you commit a crime, we will use it as an excuse to punish you for your thinking. We can't say prior to the crime whether it is worse than any other similar crime, or that the criminal is any more dangerous (let the judge determine that at sentencing), so the point is to punish beliefs.

Hate Literature Laws

You might think that hate crime laws are only affecting real criminals, and so they do no real harm. But it isn't unrealistic to think that the idea of controlling thought and belief will spread once established. Paranoid? Not at all. Already it has become the law in Canada that "every one who, by communicating statements, other than in a private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty" of a felony and liable to imprisonment for two years. An "identifiable group" is defined as "any section of the public distinguished by color, race, religion or ethnic origin."

We know that these definitions typically expand too. More groups have already been added to the protection of this existing law. At least one judge found that passages in the bible are hate literature under this law (his decision was overturned before the Bible was banned). I agree with him. Parts are very hateful against certain groups. I just happen to think that we are better letting the marketplace of ideas take care of these issues, rather than having "thought czars."

These ideas area a classic "slippery slope." Years ago the company I worked for brought in a "harassment specialist" to train us all to be "sensitive." Before long, we were hearing that it was offensive for one of the old ladies who worked there to call people "honey" - and she could be fired for it (no exaggeration). Why? Because offensive is in the eye of the offended, and so such rules tend to devolve down to the level of the most easily offended, who then make the standards for the rest of us.

The same can happen with laws addressing offensive beliefs. Will it someday be against the law to say I think most Republicans or Democrats are hypocritical? Punish people for actions - their real crimes, not for their thoughts and beliefs. We don't need hate crime laws, and we stand to lose one of our primary freedoms if the trend continues.

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Hate Crime Laws