The problem with hate-crime laws
Senator Michael Bennett thinks some Coloradans are more equal than others. He also wants to hide this fact from you. What else are we to make of his vote for S-1390, “A Bill to Authorize Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010 for Military Activities of the Department of Defense…”
I can see the head-scratching. What does a must-pass $680 billion Defense Department funding bill have to do with inequality? Simple, really.
It’s called the “Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act,” named after the gay Wyoming college student murdered 11 years ago. Basically, it expands our current “hate crime” legislation to include crimes based on “… gender, sexual orientation, gender identity …”
Knowing that there was no chance on Earth the bill would pass on its own, Democrat legislators resorted to the sleazy trick of inserting it into the 2010 Defense Department funding bill, making it impossible to vote against this enlargement of “hate crime” statutes without being vulnerable to the accusation of “voting against the troops.” It was a vile tactic when used by Republicans, and it’s no less vile when used by Democrats. This parliamentary parlor trick obviates any chance of real debate on the issue, out of craven fear that one’s arguments are not compelling enough to win. Strike one.
There are two simple reasons to oppose “hate crime” legislation, enacted to satisfy feelings of outrage at particularly egregious acts. The most common argument is that judging an act a “hate crime” requires one to know another’s mind – something a majority of the West’s most brilliant philosophers deny is possible. So the usual tactic is to incite disgust for the crime itself – which works more often than not. But do we really want to give our system of justice over to the judgment of inflamed passions? Strike two.
A much more fundamental objection is illustrated by the following: I walk into a bar, and become embroiled in a heated discussion with a person of, shall we say, androgynous identity. He so objects to my opinion of Kyle Orton that he punches me in the nose. Presto, assault and battery.
If, however, I am so offended by his adulation of Jay Cutler that I return the blow … Not only assault and battery, but the distinct possibility of being charged with a hate crime. After all, I may have been inflamed by his “difference,” and I don’t mean on the Denver Broncos’ taste in quarterbacks. The passage of S-1390 has drawn a distinction between two citizens, formerly equal before the law: now, one is a member of a protected class, due by the operation of the law to more consideration than the other. This flies in the face of the notion of “equality” as it had developed in the U.S. before 1990. It also seems to negate at least the spirit of the Constitution, and particularly of the 14th amendment. You know, the one that talks about “… equal protection of the laws …” Strike three.
It’s not as if there aren’t already remedies for pistol-whipping, torturing and hanging a guy on a barbed wire fence to die of exposure. Or for dragging a person to death and dismemberment behind a car, whether in Texas or Colorado. The cold-blooded and heinous nature of the crime, the premeditation involved and the results all argue for the death penalty, or for life without parole. And practically, since one cannot be executed twice, doubling the sentence seems inefficacious.
There is also the question of its effect when combined in noxious amalgam with statues prohibiting “hate speech” currently in vogue. Hopefully, most would agree that the statement “God hates X,” when “X” refers to a group of people otherwise minding their own business is at the very least in bad taste. But is it punishable by law? Remember, we are told time and time again that the free speech protections of the First Amendment are there to protect all sorts of speech – even that we might personally find loathsome. Do we really believe that, or is it just something we mouth while waiting to get our hands on the person who says something we regard as foul?
How about the social critic or clergyman who takes a theological or reasoned position that the behaviors of group Y are ungodly or socially harmful? Are they to be sanctioned as well? That may not be the intention of law, but we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.
No, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act is a simple act of vote-buying, undertaken by a party which would damn principle in exchange for loyal support from a specific group. And if inequality before the law, is the result, well – Michael Bennet doesn’t have a problem with that.
Neither does Senator Mark Udall, by the way.
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