La Shawn Barber

Last week, the House Committee on the Judiciary passed a bill that would expand the federal definition of so-called hate crime to add homosexuals and people confused about their gender to the list of protected classes. The committee’s Democrats voted for the bill, and Republicans voted against it. The bill is on its way to the full House.

Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said he watched the committee hearing on the bill. One Republican tried to add unborn babies to the list of protected classes. Others attempted to add military personnel, senior citizens, and homeless people to the list, but Democrats rejected the amendments. A Republican asked for a definition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” and Democrats refused to define the terms or add clarifying language to the bill.

The whole discussion of protected classes is silly, and one would hope Republicans were trying to make a point. Military personnel or old people or homeless people or any group should not be protected above anyone else, but there was no justification for Democrats to refuse to add these classes. Why are homosexuals and gender-confused people more worthy of protection than members of those groups?

A so-called hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice or bias, crimes for which penalties already exist. All crimes are hate crimes, whether they’re committed against a black person, a person who sleeps with someone of the same sex, a black person who sleeps with someone of the same sex – you get the picture.

It is not a crime to hate someone. As unpleasant an emotion as hatred can be, we are free to think whatever we want about any person for any reason. We are not free to injure others whether we hate them for their race or sexual habits or because we want the money in their wallets. One argument hate crime supporters make is that a crime motivated by racial hatred harms those beyond the victim. But crimes not motivated by prejudice or bias also hurt those beyond the victim.

Simply stated, hate crimes are designed to punish thoughts and feelings and to treat people differently based on membership in a group. They are a slippery slope toward suppressing free speech and the free exercise of religion.

La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.