Senators Ted Kenney and Gordon Smith have proposed a hate crime amendment to the defense appropriation bill the Senate is debating this week. It would add special enhancements to crimes for certain classes of victims, including homosexuals and transgenders. It’s hidden in this bill to try to ensure its passage since it might not pass on its own and the President has vowed to veto stand alone hate crime legislation. It makes it much harder for him to do so when it’s packaged with critical support for our troops.
I was first introduced to the concept of hate crimes like most Americans, from the front page of the morning paper. When I began reading the details of the story I was sickened. By the time I finished the account in the LA Times, I wanted to cry.
In Laramie, Wyoming, several years ago a homosexual student from the university there had been brutally beaten, robbed, and tied to a wooden ranch fence. He was found unconscious by a man on a bicycle who first thought he was a scarecrow.
The police arrested two men and two women in connection with the attack. The men allegedly lured their victim from the Fireside Bar, a campus hangout, by telling him they were gay. They drove in a truck to a remote spot and beat the young man mercilessly. His skull was smashed with a handgun. His hands and face were cut and his body was burned. Strung up on the fence, he was exposed overnight to 30 degree temperatures. His life was hanging by a thread. A few days later, at a hospital in Fort Collins Colorado, 22-year-old Matthew Shepard died.
Since this brutal murder in Wyoming in 1998, the effort to pass hate crime legislation—with expanded language to include "sexual preference"—has shifted into overdrive. This current bill is called “The Matthew Shepherd Law.” In spite of its proper intent to curb these attacks, such legislation is ill conceived.
I am against hate crimes, but I also am against hate crime laws for three reasons. First, they criminalize thought, not behavior. Second, they do not protect individuals, but rather select classes of people. Third, they actually encourage hostility towards one group of people, Christians.
George Orwell once said that sometimes the first duty of a responsible person is to restate the obvious. Note the obvious: Hate crime laws criminalize thought, not conduct. Assault is already punishable under existing statutes. This legislation levies an additional penalty solely for the attitude of heart: a motive called hate.
Gregory Koukl is founder and president of Stand to Reason, an organization devoted to a thoughtful and engaging defense of classical Christianity in the public square. He is also a radio talk show host and author of Relativism—Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.
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