"Hate Crime" legislation before the Senate

By Scott Tibbs, December 06, 2007

After getting two e-mail alerts about "hate crime" legislation pending before the Senate, I decided to track down the actual text of the legislation (and the amendment) that has caused so much controversy. It was an incredibly frustrating process, but I managed to find it and posted the text on Multi-Level Political Debate. As can be expected, I have a few observations.

First, putting the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (hereafter MSLLEHCPA) into a defense appropriations bill is exactly the kind of dishonest bundling that turns people off to politics. By putting the legislation into a "must pass" bill, Democrats believe it is much more likely to become law. The obvious problem is that a "hate crimes" bill has absolutely nothing to do with funding troops in Iraq. The MSLLEHCPA should get an up-or-down vote and go to the President to be signed or vetoed. Then the Senate can attempt to override the veto. Playing political games with funding for our troops is unacceptable.

An e-mail alert from the Family Research Council warns that this could be the first step to restricting freedom of speech rights if, for example, someone preaches against homosexuality and someone who heard the sermon commits a "hate crime". People for the American Way claims this is a "lie" because there is "explicit language" protecting First Amendment rights. PFAW's claim is not entirely true. The provision does exist in the House bill, but there is no specific protection for First Amendment rights in the Senate bill or the amendment offered to the defense appropriations bill.

Despite the warnings from the FRC, I can't find anything in the bill that would specifically restrict free speech. The FRC would be more accurate if the e-alerts would instead point out the "slippery slope" nature of "hate crime" legislation rather than claim that the bills actually do restrict free speech. The Traditional Values Coalition has a done just that with a very useful report on how "hate crime" measures have been used to restrict free speech in the past, both domestically and especially in Canada. It is a real danger. Once you establish the precedent that you can add extra punishment for beliefs that may have been the motivation for a crime, it is not much of a step to criminalizing people for expressing those beliefs.

The answer to hate crimes is not to pass extra penalties based on the beliefs of those who commit crimes. The answer is to punish violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. A perfect example of this is the case of James Byrd, who was murdered in a sickening and sadistic manner, dragged behind a pickup truck until he died. Two of the three men convicted of murdering James Byrd were sentenced to death, according to the November 19, 1999 edition of the New York Times. President Bush (then the governor of Texas) was attacked for not supporting hate crime legislation, but isn't capital punishment (which was richly deserved in this case) the most severe punishment available?

Last year, no Democrat filed to run against Richard Lugar, the popular Republican representing Indiana in the U.S. Senate. Lugar would have been unopposed had the Libertarian Party not run someone against him. I am very proud to say that I was one of the 168,773 people who voted Libertarian last year, because Richard Lugar voted for the hate crimes bill. With this vote, Lugar has guaranteed that I will enthusiastically vote against him again in 2012.

Previous articles on "hate crimes":

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