Thursday, May 01, 2003

All Too Predictable
I knew it would only be a matter of time after the Santorum comments that we would see a hate crimes bill, and here it is. Now, given my response to Santorum and other homophobes one might expect that I would support such a bill. However, you would be dead wrong. I have long been opposed to hate crimes statutes.
First, hate crimes laws enhance the existing criminal penalties for a particular crime, such as assualt. Now, this presents a couple of problems. Why is it that two crimes, of the same nature, should be punished differently? I think there is a legitimate debate to be had over this issue. Also, how is it that a judge or jury determines if it is "hate" that motivated the crime? It is not always so simple as the assailant yelling "nigger" or "fag". But my other question is what type of violent crime does not have an element of hate to it? If indeed we can ascertain that a perpetrator was motivated by our definition of hate, then are we not just punishing him for his thoughts? What if somewhere down the line other thoughts or opinions become taboo, will they too be subject to punishment?
My other philosophical problem with the bill is that it attempts to federalize even more crime. There is a legitimate role for federal law enforcement in very narrow areas, such as those involving national security and interstate commerce. Yet the past two decades have seen an enormous amount of federal encroachment into state and local law enforcement domain.
I understand the impetus behind hate crimes laws. We all want a tolerant society (er, well, most of us), but we cannot legislate morality (understand that Christian Coalition?). We should not, as a society, apply punishment based on someone's thoughts or biases. To do so leads us towards an Orwellian nightmare.


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