Sunday, June 14, 2009

'Dedicated to the proposition'

To wrap this accidental series of posts on the climate of hate, I want to offer a final comment on criminal acts motivated by hate.

Unlike lone wolves, so-called "hate crimes" are real, not mythical. Hateful actors do, in fact, chose their targets based on race, ethnic origin, religion, sexual nature and more. That much is indisputable.

I've already expressed my firm belief that "hate speech," short of outright incitement, is protected from government restraint by the First Amendment. When hatred motivates a crime, though, should the law define those acts as somehow more serious? Should penalties be tougher?

Absolutely not.

Assault is assault -- never mind the motive, regardless of who the perpetrator is, irrespective of the target. Murder is murder, whether a junkie kills a yuppie or a yuppie kills a junkie. Our system of criminal justice provides for a range of punishment at sentencing.
To propose that hate-motivated crimes should be charged and punished differently flies in the face of "equal justice under law," which itself stems from our nation's most basic founding principle:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
Hate-crime laws are, in this citizen's view, unconstitutional -- they codify inequality by classifying some Americans as superior to other Americans. That is, they judge a crime against a gay man or an Asian woman or an evangelical Christian to be more heinous if the offender committed the act because the victim is gay, Asian, female or Christian.

Such laws, intended to protect some, diminish all. We're created equal, yet these statutes send the message that some of us are more equal than others. They create special classes of victims and special classes of offenders.
Human nature guarantees that hatred will be with us forever. The First Amendment guarantees Americans' right to speak hate, however objectionable to the majority. And the Founders gave us the unequivocal assurance that all of us are created equal.

That perfect principle of liberty will die, however, if we capitulate to the kind of selective vengeance and misguided political correctness that hate-crime laws represent.