email Bookmark and Share

'Hate Crime' Laws: A Phony"Crisis"
Intended to Suppress Free Speech

by Timothy J. Dailey, Ph.D.

1. Sexual Orientation "Hate Crimes" - A Manufactured Crisis. According to FBI data (Crime in the United States, 2006, and Hate Crime Statistics, 2006), anti-homosexual "hate crimes" account for a miniscule fraction of total crimes in the United States:

" None of the recorded 17,034 murders that occurred in 2006 (0 percent) occurred as a result of "bias motivation" because of the sexual orientation of the victim.
" None of the recorded 92,455 forcible rapes that occurred in 2006 (0 percent) were reported as being a result of bias motivation because of the victim's sexual orientation.
" Of the recorded 860,853 aggravated assaults in 2006, 267 (.03 percent) were classified as bias motivation because of the victim's sexual orientation.

2. Most Alleged "Hate Crimes" are Not Serious Violent Crimes.

" Intimidation: Nearly one-half (46 percent) of the recorded 5449 bias-motivated offenses against persons involved the crime of intimidation, defined as the use of threatening words and/or other conduct, but without using a weapon or subjecting the individual to actual physical attack.

" Simple assault: Another 32 percent of bias-motivated offenses involved simple assault, which is a physical attack not involving the use of a weapon, and where the victim does not suffer obvious severe or aggravated bodily injury.

Does the rare incidence of violent "hate crimes" justify the creation through legislation of an entire new class of crime?

3. Penalizing Thoughts Instead of Actions. Hate Crime legislation would have a chilling effect on free speech by making unpopular ideas a basis for harsher treatment in criminal proceedings.

" Current versions of "hate crime" legislation would prohibit only acts of violence, not speech. However, any such legislation would incorporate current federal law, which already specifically includes speech, making it unlawful to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person because of his or her "race, color, religion, or national origin."

" The Hate Crimes Reporting Act of 1990 mandated that the FBI include "intimidation." Approximately half the "hate crimes" in the FBI statistics are in this category. Passage of "hate crimes" legislation would make name-calling literally a federal offense.

" "Intimidation" has already been broadly interpreted to include the public criticism of homosexuality, as in the case of 11 Christian protesters charged under a Pennsylvania hate crime law on Oct. 10, 2004. The defendants were charged for peacefully protesting at a "gay pride" rally and faced imprisonment and huge fines before their case was dismissed.

" Michael McGough, senior editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, writes "The best argument against 'enhanced penalty' laws is the constitutional one. In the United States, we are taught, you can be sent to prison for what you do but not for what you think. Not only that, if government picks and chooses which crimes are the most serious based on the motivation behind them or the ethnic background of the victim, that is a violation of the 1st Amendment, isn't it?" ("There's little to like about hate-crime laws," Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2007).

4. Federal Intrusion into State & Local Law Enforcement. Current "Hate Crime" legislation empowers the federal government to intervene and prosecute alleged "hate crimes" anywhere in the country, thus usurping the prerogative of state and local law enforcement. Federal hate crimes bureaucrats can intervene and claim jurisdiction in localities which lack "hate crime" laws, or where those laws are judged not to be zealously enforced.

5. The Myth that 'Hate Crimes' Are Not Being Prosecuted. Proponents of "hate crime" legislation have not substantiated the assertion that state and local authorities are failing to prosecute such crimes. Ironically, in the most high profile case for hate crimes legislation, the murder of Matthew Shepard, the killers were convicted and sentenced to double life sentences without parole. Only the pleas of Shepard's parents persuaded the judge to spare Henderson and McKinney the death penalty.

Dr. Timothy J. Dailey is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Marriage and Family Studies of Family Research Council.

What's Wrong With Thought Crime
('Hate Crime') Laws?

by Peter Sprigg

What are "hate crimes?"

A federal law passed in 1994 (Public Law 103-322) defines a "hate crime" as "a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."

Why do you call them "thought crimes"?

Violent attacks upon people or property are already illegal, regardless of the motive behind them. With "hate crime" laws, however, people are essentially given one penalty for the actions they engaged in, and an additional penalty for the politically incorrect thoughts that allegedly motivated those actions.

Isn't there already a federal "hate crime" law?

A 1990 law (Public Law 101-275) required the federal government to begin collecting statistics on so-called "hate crimes" from states and local governments, but did not provide for any federal prosecution of them. A 1994 law (Public Law 103-322) provided for "sentencing enhancement" (that is, higher penalties) for existing federal offenses that are found to be motivated by "hate," but did not actually create a new category of offense.

So what's different about the currently proposed federal Thought Crime law?

This law, for the first time, would allow the federal government to prosecute any alleged "hate crime" that occurs anywhere in the country, regardless of the other circumstances--thus effectively usurping the primary responsibility of states and localities for law enforcement.

Are you against all Thought Crime laws, or just ones based on "sexual orientation"?

We oppose all Thought Crime laws in principle, because penalizing people specifically for their thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes--even ones abhorrent to us and to the vast majority of Americans, such as racism--would undermine the freedom of speech and thought at the heart of our democracy.

However, we have a particular concern regarding such laws when they include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" (a reference to cross-dressing and sex-change operations) among the categories of protection. This sends the false message that deviant sexual behaviors are somehow equivalent to other categories of protection such as race or sex. In fact, the very term "hate crime" is offensive in this context, in that it implies that mere disapproval of homosexual behavior constitutes a form of "hate" equivalent to racial bigotry.

Do Thought Crime laws limit freedom of speech and freedom of religion?

In some jurisdictions that have adopted these laws, "hate crimes" have been defined to include not just violent physical acts, but merely verbal ones as well, using terms like "hate speech," "intimidation," and even verbal "assault." When Thought Crime laws are interpreted in this way, they pose a serious threat to freedom of speech and religious liberty. Indeed, Christians have already been prosecuted under Thought Crime laws for peacefully expressing disapproval of homosexual behavior in Sweden, England, Canada, and even in Philadelphia.

Would the proposed federal Thought Crime law allow people to be prosecuted for speech alone?

The bills that have been introduced in Congress in recent years target only violent actions, not peaceful expressions of opinion (only someone who "willfully causes bodily injury" or "attempts to cause bodily injury" could be charged). Nevertheless, by ratifying the Thought Crimes mentality, this bill paves the way for future expansions of its scope in ways that could eventually threaten freedom of speech and religion.

The 1990 "Hate Crime Statistics Act" (Public Law 101-275), for example, defines "hate crimes" much more broadly as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice," and the statistics collected under that law include even non-violent offenses such as "intimidation" (in fact, nearly half--48.9 percent--of the "hate crimes" reported in 2005 consisted of "intimidation" alone). It would be a very simple matter for a future Congress to change the definition of a "hate crime" subject to federal prosecution to match the more sweeping definition of "hate crimes" on which the federal government already gathers statistics.

Why would anyone oppose free speech and freedom of religion?

Pro-homosexual activists like to claim that "hate speech" (which they define as any disapproval of homosexual behavior) leads directly to "hate violence." For example, the 1998 murder of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard occurred the same year that pro-family groups had mounted a compassionate "Truth in Love" ad campaign highlighting the fact that many people have found happiness after leaving the homosexual lifestyle. When the Today Show's Katie Couric asked Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign (the nation's largest pro-homosexual activist group), "Do you believe this ad campaign launched by some conservative groups really contributed somehow to Matthew Shepard's death?," Birch answered, "I do, Katie." (There is no evidence that Shepard's murderers even knew about the ads, and ABC's 20/20 reported in 2004 that Shepard was not killed because he was homosexual at all.) The rhetoric of pro-homosexual activists makes it clear that their goal is not just to protect homosexuals from violence, but to protect them from criticism altogether by silencing those who seek to discourage homosexual behavior.

Do Thought Crime laws treat everyone fairly?

No. Thought Crime laws favor some victims of violent crimes over other victims of equally violent crimes, which violates the core principle of granting everyone the equal protection of the laws. This is a principle which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and is even carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court ("Equal Justice Under Law").

Would the proposed Thought Crime bill increase the power of the federal government?

Yes, this bill's sweeping grant of authority for the federal government to intervene in such crimes anywhere in the country would constitute a significant federal power grab over local law enforcement. Previous versions of the bill were deceptively named the "Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act." They might better have been referred to the "Local Law Enforcement Usurpation Act." In fact, this law would even allow the federal government to prosecute someone who had already been acquitted of criminal charges at the state level, if "the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence."

Do we really need a federal Thought Crimes law?

There is no evidence that local authorities are failing to investigate, prosecute, and punish, as they should, violent crimes against homosexuals. Special Thought Crime laws therefore serve no practical purpose, other than advancing a political agenda for the official government acceptance of homosexual behavior.

So, do you think it's OK to beat up homosexuals?

Absolutely not. There is no excuse for violence against anyone--including homosexuals. However, such violent attacks are already illegal. What's needed is not a new law, but the strict enforcement of existing laws--to protect all Americans equally.

Peter Sprigg is vice president for policy at the Family Research Council