Printed in the Herald-Times, October 23, 1998
To the Editor:
I, along with the rest of America, am saddened by the death of Matthew Shepard due to a brutal beating. However, I am deeply troubled by those who would exploit this tragedy to pass legislation against so-called "hate crimes."
There is no question that those who would kill or maim others deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law. But "hate crime" laws do not punish the act of violence, but the thought that proceeds that violence. Any law that attempts to regulate what people think as opposed to what they do is un-American, and a dangerous step toward totalitarianism.
What people think is nobody's business. When those thoughts are followed by violence is the only time government should become involved.
But there is a far more troubling aspect of this push for hate crime legislation. That troubling aspect is the message that the proponents of hate crime legislation put forth.
Hate crime laws say that if you are not a member of a "protected" class based on skin color, sexual orientation, national origin or religion, your life is simply not valuable enough to warrant extra punishment if you are killed, maimed or beaten.
All violent crime should be punished equally, and we must not devalue the victims of crime by passing laws elevating one group over another.
The most frightening aspect of this misguided push for hate crime legislation is the potential for infringement on our First Amendment right to free speech. When criminals are punished extra for their thoughts, how long will it be until our government decides that "hate speech" must be curtailed in order to prevent hate crimes?
Instead of passing hate crime laws, we should aggressively enforce the laws we already have and harshly punish all violent criminals.