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Hate Crimes Against Freedom By: Matt Gurney
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 05, 2009

The recent passage of House Resolution H.R. 1913 has brought America one step closer to implementing a pointless new hate crimes laws that will threaten free speech without making a single American safer.

Two bills working their way through Congress have refocused public attention on the contentious issue of hate crimes. In the House, H.R.1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 has already passed, and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate, as S.909, "The Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act." Matthew Shepard was the young, gay Wyoming man brutally beaten to death by two thugs. He is often held up as an example of homophobic hate crimes, because the girlfriend of one of the murderers told police the murder stemmed from an unwanted homosexual advance. She did this in order to remove the idea of premeditation and thus lesson the sentence, but the case's prosecutor, the girlfriend, and both killers (one of whom was bisexual) have stated Matthew Shepard was not targeted because he was homosexual, but was killed for drug money. Nonetheless, the murderers' original, misguided defense has been recycled by the media, and the slaying has been reported as a crime motivated purely by hatred. This allowed the Left to push forward on its agenda to pass hate crimes legislation and continues to lend emotional weight to what is otherwise a badly conceived, potentially dangerous piece of legislation. 

President Bush threatened to veto such a measure in 2007, but President Obama seems likely to sign the bill, and that is unfortunate. The proposed law does nothing to reduce crime, is philosophically confused, and may have a chilling effect on free speech. 

One of the bill's champions inadvertently exposed the bill's motivations in a statement almost Orwellian in its contradition of the facts. Introducing the bill in the House, Congressman Alcee Hastings, D-FL, commented, “Some have criticized this legislation by claiming that the hate crimes bill will infringe upon free speech, somehow turning Federal authorities into 'thought police.' In my view, this is simply not true. The hate crime bill adds no new classes of crime. This legislation is not about thinking or believing, but acting and harming.” 

This is false on two counts. First, crimes (which are about concrete actions and harm) are already covered by existing laws at the federal, state, and local level. The bill does not criminalize any additional actions; it deals only with thinking and believing. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, R-NC, summarized the argument well when she told the House, “Our criminal justice system has been built on the ideal of equal justice for all. This bill turns that fundamental principle on its head. Justice will no longer be equal but will depend on the race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or other protected status of the victim.” Congressman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, asked further, “Why should other groups like senior citizens, veterans, children and pregnant women not also receive the added protections under this bill?” 

Why indeed? Once crimes are defined not by the action but by the victim's identity group, the whole concept of equality under the law begins to break down. Furthermore, is a murder committed for racial reasons somehow worse than a “normal” killing, committed out of madness, jealousy, or greed (like the slaying of Matthew Shepard)?  

This bill won't help law enforcement or the pursuit of justice; however, its worst aspect is the potential chilling effect it would have on free speech. There has been much concern that the bill would silence rabbis, pastors, and priests from preaching traditional moral values against any of the preferred classes protected in the bill, whichgo well beyond merely the promiscuous or homosexuals. The Democrats insist that they have protected freedom of religion and speech with the inclusion of the clause, “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by, the Constitution.” This is mere window dressing, however. A religious sermon can be viewed as incitement to hatred, should any member of the congregation break a law. A pastor that preaches against abortion, for example, could be considered a conspirator, guilty of incitement to hatred, should a member of his congregation commit an act of vandalism against an abortion clinic.  

When pressed for answers in the House, Democrat Artur Davis of Alabama was forced into admitting this awkward fact. He was asked a hypothetical question by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, inquiring whether or not a sermon stating that sex is best between a married man and woman would be exempt from prosecution should one of the worshipers commit an act of violence against a homosexual. Davis answered simply, “No.” 

How could this not have a chilling effect on free speech? If the hypothetical criminal claimed that his act of homophobic violence had been motivated by the sermon he had heard, it would then be up to a judge to rule whether or not said sermon crossed a line between free speech and “inciting hatred.”

If this seems impossible, it is worth considering the case of Stephen Boissoin. The Canadian pastor was brought before a so-called Human Rights Tribunal in the province of Alberta, to answer for a letter he had written in the local paper, calling homosexuality immoral, and comparing it to pedophilia. For the crime of writing that letter, deemed by the tribunal as being “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt,” Boissoin was forbidden by law to ever again, in any medium, express a disparaging view of homosexuality. The ruling, with its open ended phrasing, could conceivably cover personal emails and telephone conversations. It also explicitly forbids him from making disparaging comments about homosexuality during “public speeches” - a ruling which would certainly cover a sermon. Adding insult to injury, he was fined $7,000 and ordered to publicly apologize for articulating his spiritual beliefs. Such could well be the future in America.

Even if no criminal charges are levied, civil lawsuits, or even the threat of civil lawsuits, may force them to cease and desist. For many faith leaders, the risk of a long court battle, even if ultimately successful, could well be enough to make them think twice about speaking their mind openly and in accordance with their faith, lest their institution be bankrupted by legal fees fighting off politically- motivated nuisance lawsuits. They would be safer saying nothing at all, and with their silencing, a great source of strength for millions of law-abiding Americans would be permanently neutered.

The bill's vague language makes it certain that defining the ultimate scope of the bill would fall to courts across the country, with the most asinine rulings becoming precedent for further attacks upon free speech. Indeed, Congressman Hastings, during debate on H.R.1913, openly mocked the suggestion that the bill should be more precise, so as to avoid these issues later. He read aloud into the record a proposed amendment, which read, “The term sexual orientation, as used in this act, or any amendments made by this act, does not include apotemnophilia, asphyxophilia, autogynephilia, coprophilia, exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, gerontosexuality, incest, kleptophilia, klismaphilia, necrophilia, partialism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, telephone scatalogia, toucherism, transgenderism, transsexual, transvestite, transvestic fetishism, urophilia, voyeurism, or zoophilia.”  

Hastings explicitly affirmed that this bill will extend legal protection to all the above acts, stating, this bill addresses our resolve to end violence based on prejudice, and to guarantee that all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability -- or all of these philias and fetishes and isms that were put forward -- need not live in fear because of who they are. 

This legislation is ill-conceived and sloppily written, so much so that one is forced to wonder if it is being left deliberately open-ended to permit the most sweeping application possible. Even if the bill were well-crafted, it would not change the fact that hate crimes are an affront to our fundamental principles of justice, and threaten to erode the freedoms that made America great. For those reasons alone, it should never be signed into law. But given the current balance of power in the Senate and President Obama's known support for the law, tragically, such does not seem likely.

Matt Gurney is an assistant editor for comment at Canada’s National Post, and writes and speaks on issues of military and geopolitical concern. He can be reached at mgurney.responses@gmail.com

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