Something for the left to think about regarding hate crime laws

As a libertarian, I find Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s comment that Matthew Shepard’s death was a “a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills” as reprehensible as anyone on the left ever could.  Although she’s now apologized for the remark, she’s yet another good example of why the Republican Party continues to lose elections.

However, some of the well-meaning arguments used by the left regarding hate crime legislation make no sense to me, either.  Most of my progressive friends are fairly bright people — and they are certainly smart enough to know that they probably won’t control Congress and the White House forever.  It seems that the progressive movement is promoting a slippery-slope issue which will ultimately be used to target the left side of the aisle should the social conservatives ever take over.

When the Department of Homeland Security report branding of most people on the right as potential terrorist threats was made public, I had a difficult time being sympathetic to those who applauded President Bush’s egregious abuse of executive power and blatant disregard for civil liberties.  Now that the worm has turned on them, a lot of conservatives are once again concerned about more than one of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  Their problem is similar to the same general slippery-slope the left is currently creating with the hate crime legislation soon to hit the Senate floor.

“Personal bias in officers or prosecution is absolutely indicative of what’s going to happen sometimes,” said Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, on The Rachel Maddow Show the other night. “Not always, but sometimes.”

While it isn’t the point that Ms. Shepard was trying to make, she brings up a very valid topic.  Personal and political bias will happen as a matter of public policy should extreme social conservatives manage to gain political control. Imagine a President Mike Huckabee, Vice President Rick Santorum, Attorney General John Yoo, and Senator Ralph Reed.

If you don’t think social conservatives will do everything they can to define those in opposition to their agenda as hate-mongers, think again.  They already call folks opposed to the Iraq War or the Patriot Act part of the “Hate America” crowd.  With control of Congress and the White House, it would be easy to expand the definition of hate crime to suit their purposes.

Next, imagine that some gay guy murders some straight person. While he admitted some dislike for straight people in his confession, there is still doubt in the minds of some intelligent and reasonable people about his true intent.  What is established is that the police found evidence that the suspect had participated in local Pride parades and his personal library contains works by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde and Gore Vidal.

If you don’t think social conservatives would use ownership of books like these as evidence, think again.  If you don’t think the right is capable of stretching a legal definition to suit their own purposes, I’ll suggest that you go ask John Yoo about his definition of torture.

If the intent of the left is to provide some level of federal oversight to crimes ignored at the local level, please do the right thing and amend the Constitution if you don’t feel that the 14th Amendment provides enough protection in these sorts of cases.

By creating and now expanding hate crime laws, the left is unwittedly drawing the papers with which they’ll later be prosecuted.

  • Tony

    Most liberals, like the conservatives before them, really don’t believe the other side will be in power again. Arrogance is the toughest temptation for those in power to resist.
    Of course with that arrogance also comes the absolute certainty that one is right.
    It’s that whole divine right to rule thing. “Since we are in power it must mean that God or the universe or fate meant it to be”.

  • Stephen Gordon


    As someone who has watched power change hands a couple of times, this is indeed frustrating.

    Each side tends to give the other the tools they need to add more links to the chains binding the American people.

  • voter

    “Imagine a President Mike Huckabee….”

    I can only dream!!!

  • Tuba Terry

    I’m mostly lefty myself, but I entirely agree with you on this point. While we already prosecute certain crimes based on intent, “hate crime” is far too vague to be continually confined to something most reasonable people would think of as a hate crime.

    It also seems to me that most people in the top tiers of government use their time in their positions in order to perpetuate the system, or at least give them further tenure. They legislate for the sake of legislation. Even if this stuff passes now and isn’t used for more widespread prosecution, it sets a precedence that future legislators will exploit to pile on more laws. I have the feeling that if these pass, they’ll go the way of the drug laws.

  • http://none Tim

    “Next, imagine that some gay guy murders some straight person..” Really!? Oh. My. God.

    In the same show, Maddow summarized the need for a law like this by pointing out that it’s not a crime against an individual but, in fact, a crime against a community.

    “The idea is that the federal Justice Department can get involved in a case to help local authorities or even to take the lead on a case if need be, in prosecuting individual serious violent crimes and murders in which the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability – the idea that crimes like that are intended not only to hurt or murder an individual, but to terrorize an entire community, and so there is a national interest in ensuring that those crimes are solved and prosecuted, …”

    This part can stand to be repeated: “…not only to hurt or murder an individual, but to terrorize an entire community…”

  • Tom Knighton

    The term “hate” crime smacks far to much of Orwell’s “thought crime”. In other words, it penalizes someone for what is in their minds, rather than their actions. While I don’t particularly care for the example used in this post (gay kill straight), I agree it’s a slippery slope, but one that can go multiple directions.

  • Chuck Anziulewicz

    “Imagine that some gay guy murders some straight person. While he admitted some dislike for straight people in his confession, there is still doubt in the minds of some intelligent and reasonable people about his true intent.”

    I will trust that to a judge and jury to decide. But YES, if a Gay person is found guilty of attacking someone because of “anti-STRAIGHT” prejudice, he should be prosecuted just as severely as someone who was motivated by racial or religious prejudice.

    People err when assuming that expanding the hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation (meaning Gay AND Straight, by the way) will “criminalize” a person’s thoughts. The current hate crimes law has been on the books since 1969, and NEVER over the past 40 years has someone been prosecuted for expressing prejudice against members of a race or a religious group. Christian pastors have been invoking Scripture against non-Christians for as long as there have been Christians, and the hate crimes statute has never been used against them.

    But there is a BIG difference between expressing personal prejudice against a group, and being motivated by that prejudice to attack a person’s person or property. I don’t care if Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Sean Hannity or Lou Sheldon hurl their anti-Gay invective until the cows come home; but if someone uses Scripture as a justification for beating up someone who is Gay, that’s a different story.

    Likewise when it comes to delineating between different crimes against property: There’s a big moral and ethical difference between someone who spraypaints a “tag” on a highway overpass, and someone who spraypaints swastikas on the front of a synagogue.

    Until conservatives mount a concerted effort to repeal the federal hate crimes statute that has been in effect for past 40 years, I’ll continue to see their arguments against the legislation now being considered as pretty disengenuous.

  • John

    There’s a big difference between calling people “hate mongers” or the “hate america” crowd, and wanting to create hate crime laws to silence them. Conservatives may at times mischaracterize their detractors, but they are FAR LESS inclined to try to legislate them into silence than are liberals.

  • Joshua Holmes

    but if someone uses Scripture as a justification for beating up someone who is Gay, that’s a different story.

    Sure it’s different to beat someone up than insult them. That’s why insults aren’t crimes and assault is. What I object to is that a criminal should be punished more for breaking a leg if he hates the victim’s group than for example, he is reminding someone to pay a loan shark.

  • uhm

    I hate the establishment when Bush was in office and I hate it now. Where is the change? I don’t think any dictator would go very far against their masters. The establishment is still scarred from the outcome of previous generations of elitist thinking that accumulated into the eugenics movement and the holocaust. The elite is into multiculturalism now trying to pay for it’s sins against humanity.

    Where Foxx comes from this stuff is considered proper in old people. The elite she grew up listening too probably wasn’t pushing multiculturalism but sterilization and racial hygiene. She is a relic of the past. People soak up the propaganda of their time and internalize it. I await the generation of nuts that have grown up listening to Fox News or MSNBC.

  • Stan B

    Yeah, about that whole “Patriot Act” thing….isn’t it great that it’s been repealed by the Democrats and Obama? I mean, it was such a horrible thing, surely they’ve gotten on the ball and addressed that blight on America. They do control both houses of Congress and the Presidency, right? The Patriot Act IS history, right? Right?

  • Kathryn Rebecca

    Being in the group that this legislation is supposed to protect makes it difficult for me to really decide whether or not I agree with hate crimes; throw in my training in psychology, and it’s just a mess.

    My libertarian side disagrees with protecting certain groups of people- why should a crime be different because of intent? Shouldn’t intent be enough, regardless of what’s going on in the perpetrator’s mind?

    But then, there are still bias-motivated crimes happening, so I think that while people can’t play nicely, we need special protections for some groups. And in communities where certain crimes are not going to be aggressively pursued, it is a little comforting to know that something can be done.

    But… I do agree with Stephen about the 14th amendment. The Supreme Court incorporated the Bill of Rights for a reason, and no procedure has been enacted to change it, so… So, I am still on the fence.