Robert Knight

A grandma using an ATM machine should have at least as much protection under the law as a man walking out of a “gay” bar. But under “hate crimes” laws that include “sexual orientation,” an assailant of a man perceived as homosexual would be subjected to greater penalties than grandma’s mugger.

As part of his long list of payoffs to the powerful homosexual lobby, President Obama has pledged to sign a federal “hate crimes” bill at the first opportunity.

He may soon get a chance. On January 9, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) introduced “The David Ray Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009” (HR 256), which is a stripped-down version of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act/Matthew Shepard Act of 2007” (H.R. 1592 / S. 1105), which failed to pass in the last Congress.

“David’s Law,” is not only unnecessary but poses an acute threat to constitutionally established civil rights. It would add “sexual orientation” to a list of specially protected classes. It would also create penalties on top of criminal convictions, based on the perpetrators’ perceived beliefs, and create a federal slush fund for hate crime prevention programs for juveniles at the state and local level. Finally, it constitutes yet another abuse of the Commerce Clause, using it to justify federal intervention on the flimsiest tie-ins to interstate trade.

While it might sound good on the surface (nobody is for hate crimes) the law is profoundly dangerous. It helps build the legal foundation for eventually violating the freedoms of speech, association and religion. It violates the constitutional concept of equal protection under the law. It expands the un-American concept of “thought crime,” in which someone's actions are “more” illegal depending on thoughts or beliefs.

In the latest crime statistics released in October 2008 by the U.S. Justice Department for 2007, nearly 80 percent of “hate crimes” listed in “crimes against persons” involved “intimidation” (47.4 percent) or “simple assault” (31.1 percent), which could involve nothing more than words. The proposed law, in effect, would make federal cases out of name-calling.

Per capita, the most vulnerable class is young, African-American men who are victims of other young, African-American men. The campaign for “hate crime” laws diverts attention from the unfolding tragedy in urban areas. Furthermore, there is no evidence that “hate crime” victims receive any less law enforcement attention than victims of other crimes.

The proposed federal hate crime law, like all hate crime laws, politicizes crime, leading to pressure on police and prosecutors to devote more of their limited resources to certain cases at the expense of other crime victims' cases.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.