Ken Connor

This is the animating principle behind opposition to hate crime legislation. Regardless of how this emotionally-charged debate might be portrayed in the media, the primary objection of critics of "hate crimes" is that such laws essentially criminalize thought or attitudes. In a society based in the rule of law, it is legitimate to punish a person when their conduct violates the life, liberty, or property of another. It is not legitimate, however, to punish that same person more severely if their crime was motivated by an unpopular or abhorrent ideology. Actions, not attitudes, are the proper province of government regulation.

As Chief Justice Roberts observed, hate speech can stir powerful emotions in us, prompting a desire for justice that clouds our ability to appreciate the higher principles involved. In a political and cultural atmosphere that becomes more and more contentious every day however, it is critical that we remain firm in our allegiance to the values that America was founded on. Unlike many other parts of the world – where open criticism of the predominant religion or reigning despot is likely to land a person in prison or worse – America is a land that has always stood as a bastion of liberty and a model of the democratic process in action. If a person or a group says something we don't like, we don't issue death threats, or take to the streets in violent protest, or lobby the state to crack down on our enemies. That's just not the American way.

The American Legion's response to the Westboro Baptist Church's offensive activities is a perfect example of the American way in action. For six years, the Patriot Guard Riders have stood vigil at military funerals, acting as guardians for the fallen and their families and minimizing their exposure to the hateful protesters lining the funeral routes. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, the Legion has pledged to continue this work for as long as they are needed. Try as they might to garner attention with their hateful words, the Westboro Baptist Church's message will never resonate as loud as the message being sent by the Patriot Guard Riders. That is what makes America a great nation.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.