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.