This time, it doesn’t come from an opponent of hate crimes legislation, but a supporter. It’s Jack Haberer, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook. He starts with an irrelevant story about his first exposure to inclusive language, and jumps from that to this:
This legislated language evolution reflected a legislated behavior evolution. Back in the 1960s, courts and legislatures identified a kind of behavior so despicable it deserves special laws and penalties. They singled out “hate crimes” — violent crimes motivated by prejudice toward race, color, religion, or national origin — for special treatment as a federal offense. The courts were directed to hand down more serious sentences for bias-motivated crimes.
I have no idea what he’s referring to here. Other than standard civil rights legislation, the only thing I could find from the 1960s that even comes close to qualifying for the label “hate crime” bill is Title 18, Section 245 of the U.S. Criminal Code (the one being amended by the current bill). It states in (b)(2) that “Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with–any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and because he is or has been–” and then lists six categories of activity (enrolling in college, applying for a job, serving as a juror, etc.) These aren’t “hate crimes,” which are otherwise criminal acts that have racial or other bias as the motivating factor. These are actions that become crimes because they involve racial or other forms of discrimination. One can refuse to hire a person for any of a thousand good reasons, but one cannot refuse to hire a person because they are African-American. One cannot commit assault or murder for any reason. These are two very different categories.
On May 3 of this year, the House of Representatives by a wide majority sent to the White House a bill, H.R. 1529, that adds to existing legislation gender, sexual orientation, and disability as categories to be protected under federal hate-crimes laws. By the time you read this, odds are good that President George W. Bush will have vetoed it. Vetoed? Why?
Prior to Congress’ adoption, the White House warned of a veto. The legislation “is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable” because state laws already ban violent crime; it needlessly extends the range of crimes in which federal authorities exert jurisdiction. A second reason, not acknowledged by the White House, is that many conservative Christian groups have been working to defeat the bill, mostly because of the protections it offers gays and lesbians.
Conservative Christian groups have been working to defeat the bill, often with reasoning that would be better suited to Swedish rather than American law (see here and here). To listen to them, they are most concerned about free speech and religious freedom. Haberer’s suggestion that it’s “mostly because of the protections it offers gays and lesbians” is way off base, and patently unfair. If you’re going to disagree with someone, disagree with what they say, not with what you think they really mean.
Why do that? Yes, conservatives want to conserve traditional standards of sexual morality. That’s understood. But protecting individuals against violence qualifies as a traditional Christian value, too. Nevertheless, James Dobson, Focus on the Family founder and radio broadcaster, told his supporters that the law would be “the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful.” He added, “Pastors preaching from Scripture on homosexuality could be threatened with persecution and prosecution.”
But individuals are already protected against violence. The criminal acts that are specified in the bill–bodily injury and property crimes–are already against the law in every jurisdiction in America. This bill doesn’t “protect” anyone any more than current laws do, it simply adds another layer of jurisdiction through which the same crime can be prosecuted and extra penalties levied.
Wrong. As much as I would love to restrict some of the hate mongering being promoted in the name of God, hate crimes legislation has done nothing to stop any of that — consider the shock jocks on the radio. The bill deals only with violent crimes. It explicitly contains a provision that says nothing in the bill should “be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free-speech or free-exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Haberer is absolutely correct about that.
We Christians need to support laws that protect the lives of all those around us, no matter what we think of them or their behavior.
Better yet, we Christians are commanded — personally and collectively, through individual care and through political influence — to love our neighbors as ourselves. They taught me that in seminary. They got that idea from Jesus.
What they didn’t get from Jesus, however, is the proper way to write a criminal code. This bill has nothing to do with offering any protection to anyone who isn’t already protected by the criminal statutes of the several states and the United States. Pretending otherwise simply leads to the attitude Haberer takes toward those with whom he disagrees on a public policy issue, as if they don’t care about protecting people or loving their neighbor.