We All Need Protection from Hate Crimes

A group called Faith 2 Action is rallying the troops to shoot down the hate crime extension bill coming before the Senate, possibly as early as June 15. It’s sending packets to senators urging them to defeat the bill on the grounds of free speech, even though the bill only adds time to sentences handed down for violent crimes. The mailing contains a mugshot, fingerprints, a picture of cuffed hands, and the headline “Don’t Make Me A Criminal.”

Jane Folger of the ministry Faith 2 Action says the hate crimes bill passed by the House is aimed at pastors or anyone else who has the “audacity” to disagree with the homosexual agenda. “Mike is standing at a football bar, or he’s standing at a restaurant, watching a game,” she posits; “Bruce comes out of the restroom, and he’s touching up his makeup. He’s a cross-dresser with red nails and a five o’clock shadow. He comes out and hits on Mike. Maybe he puts his arm around him or maybe he brushes or puts his hand through his hair.

The average man would “maybe want to push off such unwelcome advances,” Folger observes. However, she warns, “That, if you touch him, is a hate crime.”

If you ever wondered why they call it homophobia, now you have an idea. What’s next, a congressional mailing of coloring books illustrating the horrors of marriage equality?

It’s beyond galling for those of us who actually believe in the First Amendment — even for hate speech — to hear it eulogized by those who gave up even their lip-service to it after 9/11, at about the same time that Ari Fleischer warned “watch what you do, watch what you say.”

Those in Congress who warn ominously of thought crimes had no trouble retroactively legalizing the administration’s illegal wholesale spying on Americans’ telephone conversations and emails — activities which are not exactly conducive to the free and open expression of thoughts. “If you haven’t done anything wrong,” Bush apologists blandly assert, “you have nothing to fear.” Free speech and privacy, as rights and goods in and of themselves, count as nothing.

How many Republicans who are now making impassioned arguments defending free speech came to the defense of the Dixie Chicks when their CDs were being pitched into bonfires and Clear Channel put them on a no-play list? How many work tirelessly to get “inappropriate” books off library shelves?

How many seconds pass before Bill O’Reilly tells an opponent to shut up and/or cuts her mic?

More importantly, how many movement conservatives protesting the new hate crime bill on free speech grounds heckled, harassed, and shouted down anyone who had the temerity to point out the administration’s transparent lies as we marched into Iraq? Free speech doesn’t mean much when you can’t be heard. Or seen — how many objected to the creation of “free speech zones” that pen peaceful demonstrators far from the person or place they’re protesting?

Far from believing in an equal, open exchange of ideas, the religious and political right believe very strongly that they have a lock on absolute truth; they disparage intellectual humility, tolerance, and evidence-based decision-making as “moral relativism.” These attitudes have eroded public support for all human rights, not just the right to free speech.

Most notable in that regard is the Bush administration’s notion of the unitary executive, which gives the president unprecedented power to declare citizens “enemy combatants” and strip them of all rights, including the right to physical safety—the ultimate penalty enhancement. During a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates, every one of them, with the honorable exception of Representative Ron Paul, eagerly endorsed the Guantanamo detention center and the torturing of suspects.

The audience’s thunderous applause was chilling. Cruelty has become anonymous, sanitized: respectable.

The other argument conservatives make against penalty enhancements is that they undermine the concept of equal protection under the law. According to this thinking, it would be un-American to add an additional terrorist penalty to the sentences of abortion clinic bombers, for example — and as far as I know, no pro-life murderers have had such a penalty added to their sentences.

Yet when Judge James Cohn handed down a five-year sentence for Stephen Jordi for attempted fire-bombing of a reproductive health clinic, he added, “I have grave concerns regarding the future dangerousness of Mr. Jordi.” The prosecution argued that the remorseless Jordi should be sentenced as a terrorist, which would have doubled his sentence, but Cohn argued that under the law domestic acts could not be considered terrorism.

Unfortunately, Cohn’s legal scruples have not prevented an Oregon judge from sentencing two eco-activists as terrorists recently. This is the natural outcome of an FBI decision to designate environmental and animal rights activists as the leading domestic terrorist threats, in spite of the fact that there has never been a life lost in any action taken by those groups. Unlike abortion clinic bombers, environmental and animal activists have made the preservation of human life a priority.

Yet there has been no outcry from conservatives against this dangerously broad use of penalty enhancements. As with their new-found passion for free speech, the right’s support for equal protection in sentencing seems partisan at best.

Which is not to say that hate speech is harmless. Far from it. Recently Eric Rudolph, who exploded a nail-packed bomb outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Alabama, made the news on this very subject. Rudolph made a deal to avoid the death penalty and is now using his constitutionally-protected free speech to taunt one of his victims, nurse Emily Lyons, from his prison cell. (Be forewarned, this link contains extremely disturbing photos showing what Emily, a mother of two, has suffered from Rudolph’s vicious attack, including the loss of one eye.)

On a website set up by an Army of God admirer, Rudolph

recalls how Emily Lyons, in court, described the pain of her injuries and made an obscene gesture at Rudolph as she showed off a finger mangled by the blast. Rudolph writes: “It was a great speech and one that the denizens of freedom should be proud to enshrine in a museum somewhere. Perhaps they could put it next to MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream.’ They could call it ‘I Have a Middle Finger.’”

An equal opportunity hater, Rudolph also bombed a gay bar.

Jeff Lyons, Emily’s husband, worries that Rudolph, who is considered a “Hero of God” among anti-abortion fanatics, might incite further violence from his jail cell. It is certainly possible. And yet there’s no way to constrain Eric Rudolph’s free speech rights without compromising free speech for everyone.

I believe it would be both wrong and futile to try to solve the problem of rising hate by curtailing speech. But it would also be wrong — and dangerous — not to address the problem at all. Adding time to the sentences of criminals convicted of violently assaulting strangers simply because they are gay, or black, or work in an abortion clinic, is an eminently reasonable way to discourage further violence against vulnerable minorities while at the same time protecting free speech rights.

In other words, I support this extension of hate crime coverage precisely because of the value I put on the First Amendment. Penalty enhancements allow us, as a society, to take a stand against radical intolerance at the point where vicious words escalate into beatings, cross-burnings, and bombings.

In the words of Dr. King, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. atheo said on June 12th, 2007 at 7:29am #

    Patricia misrepresents the reality of this situation. First, the opponents of this bill come from accross the spectrum, to focus on one element is propagandistic. Second, this legislation is not about lynching (which is already illegal) it is about removing our constitutional rights. A good example of wheere this is going can be seen in Canada:

    B.C. B’nai Brith: Your Humble Blogger is a Hate Criminal
    by Kurt Nimmo

    Earlier today, I received an email from Chris Cook, the assistant editor of Atlantic Free Press and host of the Gorilla Radio program in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. According to Chris, the British Columbia branch of the B’nai Brith has accused the PEJ News website of hate crimes for posting eighteen articles, including at least one your humble blogger. In my case, the B’nai Brith apparently took exception to Israel Plans Torture Center for Abducted Lebanese, an article detailing the fact, reported by Yedioth Internet, that Israel “started constructing a temporary detention center designed to hold the Lebanese prisoners” during the invasion of Lebanon last July.

    Of course, it is not a hate crime for Yedioth Internet to report such things, but it is a hate crime for a blogger to write about the facts, especially when he mentions the indisputable fact Israel violated the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment during its previous invasion and occupation of Lebanon. It is also a hate crime to mention a 1999 Human Rights Watch report that stated Israel had imprisoned hundreds of Lebanese arbitrarily in the Khiam torture facility. “Many of the detainees, including women, have been tortured during interrogation and subjected to abysmal conditions of confinement,” Human Rights Watch stated in the report.

    It is probably more hateful to cite Arjan El Fassed and Electronic Intifada. “Prisoners have been routinely tortured [at Khiam], three times a day. Torture included beatings, being prodded with electrical cables in sensitive parts of the body and being hung from painful positions…. Detainees were given inadequate food rations and beaten when they prayed…. Among the prisoners were Lebanese journalist Cosette Ibrahim, kidnapped while reporting in southern Lebanon.” No doubt Cosette Ibrahim is a hate criminal. “Some of the detainees were children…. Between 1987 and 1995 prisoners in Khiam were not allowed access to their families. They were denied the right of prompt judicial review of the lawfulness of their detention. A number of detainees have died in Khiam, some of them after torture, others because of lack of medical treatment.”

    As well, it is a hate crime to mention the Ketziot prison in Israel. “The soldiers used bulldozers to push the dunes up like mountains around it. The sun there felt like someone was pouring fire on you. It was a place with no buildings, only tents with cells,” a Palestinian, Abed Khalil, told the Inter Press Service Newswire. “The floors of the cells at Ketziot did not sit on concrete but directly on the desert. At night when you slept, the scorpions and black snakes came in through the sand…. If you did not give information about people in your camp, the soldiers beat you. If you did give information, they said it proved you were a terrorist, so they kept you longer. And they beat you.”

    Abed Khalil is not only a terrorist, but a hate criminal to boot.

    However, it is especially hateful and antisemitic to write the following: “In Israel, with racist and sociopathic Zionists at the helm, it will be business as usual in regard to the Lebanese people, who are considered little more than untermenschen.”

    Of course, here in America, we have our very own sociopaths, more accurately described as psychopaths, at the helm, although they are not particularly racist, as they slaughter people of all races and creeds—as millions of Iraqis, Serbs, Vietnamese, Latin Americans, and others can attest. I write about the American version of psychopath as well, but that’s not the business of B’nai Brith in British Columbia.

    If you think the B’nai Brith is nothing to worry about in Canada, consider they have worked closely with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and played an instrumental role in the arrest and deportation of Ernst Zundel to Germany. Zundel now sits in a German prison, convicted of Holocaust denial. Another writer, the late Doug Collins of the Vancouver area North Shore News, was targeted by the B’nai Brith in 1994 for infringing “human rights”—specifically, he had criticized the film Schindler’s List—an accusation summarily dismissed by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

    In 2000, before “everything changed,” the B’nai Brith told CBC News “anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada,” even though statistics demonstrate “there were 42 reported incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 1998, down a significant 28 per cent from the 58 incidents reported last year. This trend is consistent with police reports across the country and may be the result of crackdowns by the police Hate Crimes Units” of the sort B’nai Brith apparently want to sic on PEJ News for the hate crime of posting articles critical of Israel.

    “I have received some pretty disgusting hate mail over the last several years,” Frank Dimant, Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith Canada, told the CBC, “but I must admit it was particularly terrifying to be the target of a death threat on the Internet.”

    Join the club, Frank. I get death threats and harassing telephone calls at my place of work. One particularly violent mental case, who describes himself as a Zionist, urges his demented friends to grab their guns and execute me for “treason,” that is to say for the crime of criticizing Israel and the Bush neocons. Soon enough, no doubt, engaging in such political speech will be a punishable crime here in America, too.

    In the old days, B’nai Brith going after writers and a Canadian website would not necessarily put an American writer in danger. But all of that will soon be water under the proverbial bridge, because our rulers are working steadily toward a North America Union, that is to say they are “harmonizing” not only trade but law as well. Soon enough we will be one big happy Neoliberal World Order family and thought crimes committed in what was once considered the United States will be thought crimes in what was once Canada and Mexico.

    As it turns out, the government here in the United States, soon to be the middle section of the North American Union, has done a mighty fine job of selling our very own hate crime legislation. “A new Gallup poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans support the hate-crimes bill now before Congress,” reports the homosexual website, Advocate.com. “The bill would expand federal hate-crimes law to cover crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. According to the poll, conducted May 10–13, support for the bill cut across partisan, ideological, and religious lines.”

    Of course, the hate crimes bill now rolling through Congress is all gussied up with the politically correct veneer of “gender identity and disability,” but this is simply sugar-coating on a bitter and destructive pill designed to gut what remains of the Bill of Rights and national sovereignty, as our rulers don’t give a whit about gender, disability, or so-called sexual orientation. Our rulers are far more determined to punish thought crime, specifically the crime of opposition to rule by the global and transnational corporate elite.

    “Hate crimes legislation is really a Trojan horse,” writes Chris Stovall, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. “Essentially, everywhere that hate crimes laws have been passed, it inevitably and eventually leads to prosecution of speech and expression. There is one interpretation in reading the bill that would allow state attorney generals to ask the federal government to come in and take over the prosecution of an alleged state hate crimes offense…. Canada has had several examples in the last couple of years of people who have been convicted or at least prosecuted and investigated under a law that criminalizes basically as hate propaganda any speech that’s critical of homosexual behavior. That can be anything from writing an editorial to a newspaper to possibly preaching a sermon.”

    As PEJ News is in the process of discovering, hate crimes are not limited to speech critical of homosexuals. In the case of PEJ News and your humble blogger, it is all about the B’nai Brith and criticism of Israel.


    Chris Cook wrote while I was writing the above. As it now appears, I am a hate criminal in spades, as the B’nai Brith considers four of my posts on PEJ News site to be scurrilous and hateful.

    Here are the additional three articles:

    Christian “AIPAC” Supports Palestinian Starvation
    Starving Babies and Making Lebanon Dark
    London Mayor Attacked for Opposition to Islamophobia

    In regard to the powers of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, consider the following, delivered by Mary Gusella, retired Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, on December 16, 2005 in Ottawa:

    The Tribunal has the power to order a respondent to cease and desist from the spreading of hate messages and to not engage in similar activity in the future. Compensation of up to $20,000 can be awarded to individuals named on a hate site and civil penalties of up to $10,000 can be imposed. Most importantly, decisions of the Tribunal can be made Orders of the Federal Court. Failure to comply with a Federal Court Order can lead to a finding of contempt. On three occasions, twice with regard to [white-supremacist John Ross Taylor], contempt of court proceedings have resulted in the imprisonment of a respondent.


  2. Rev Spitz said on June 12th, 2007 at 8:01am #

    I think if homosexuals make a move on a heterosexual person, this should be a hate crime with mandatory prison time. Also mothers who go into babykilling abortion mills and pay someone to murder their child should be charged with murder with hate crimes enhancement. Anyone who is against Christianity should be charged with a hate crime. As a matter of fact anyone who refuses to read the Holy Bible should be charge with a hate crime. I think teaching evolution in a classroom should also be a hate crime mandatory jail time.

  3. Lila Rajiva said on June 12th, 2007 at 10:37am #

    Creating a category of hate crimes does indeed tend to criminalize thought ,because it goes to motivation, which can always be attributed arbitrarily.

    It’s not the state’s jobs to monitor our thinking. It has a legitimate interest in protecting us from violence — regardless of the motive. Let it do that evenly and across the board, without playing favorites. Politicization of law is the problem and it won’t get solved this way.

    Hate crime bills are a bad idea, not matter what your political persuasion.
    Enforce the laws already on the books and focus on individuals not groups, whether on the left or on the right.

  4. Lila Rajiva said on June 12th, 2007 at 11:39am #

    Hi Patricia –

    Yes, good point. You’re right to bring up motivation. But that is a bit different because it doesn’t stem from an “invidious” category like race or gender. It is neutral in that respect.

    My feeling is that assessing when and to what degree hate of a group is involved versus hate of the individual who is part of the group will only get us tangled more and more (and thus reinforce more and more) those very categories.

    It will end in power politics, with now one group, now another asserting its might.

    Mens rea or absence thereof is not an invidious category in that way…
    I see no good coming out of all this..only more speech and thought monitoring – of which we have too much, to no good effect that I can see….

    Just my thoughts….

  5. John said on June 12th, 2007 at 11:40am #

    The author seems to misunderstand the 1st amendment. The amendment applies to government interference in free speech/religion, not individual or corporate interference. When someone shouts you down, that is an example of free speech. When the government jails or fines you for what you say or think, it is an example of the opposite.

  6. marcusaurelius said on June 12th, 2007 at 11:59am #

    It’s bad enough that you can be put in prison for engaging in politically incorrect personal habits ie the drug war. People receiving additional prison time for their politics, faith, and for insults uttered under stressful situations is just wrong. Here in my home state of NC the majority of hate crime enhancements have been against blacks.

  7. Shane said on June 12th, 2007 at 2:02pm #

    First, there are already laws against assault, battery, first degree murder (i.e. murder with MALICE aforethought), rape, etc.
    Second, hate crime laws tend to criminalize speech (see Canada). While it’s sadly true that the constitution has become a symbol, it does us ill to criminalize people for their speech. And hate crime laws do that.
    I always find it amazing that people who cry about freedom want to criminalize other people’s points of view.
    Comparing people burning their own property or deciding not play music to the government throwing people in jail for “hate” speech is at best misleading.
    Finally hate crimes laws are primarily used against white males who commit crimes, rather than equally, but don’t let that stop you. Take away everyone else’s freedoms, and see what is left after.

  8. Michael Wright said on June 13th, 2007 at 1:34am #

    Hey Rev Spitz: Let me take a swing and say that you are a sad, reactionary who has missed the point of this debate. If you jail a man for hitting on straight man, then you should also jail every straight man who has hit on a woman who didn’t want to be hit on.

    Hate crime laws are dangerous tools supposedly created with ‘the best intentions’ in mind. It is unfortunate that they silence voices in their efforts to appease the hearts of the hated. Free speech and hate speech are inseperable bedfellows: you cannot have one without having the other.

    I guess the real question now has become this: do our society value our individual ‘freedom’ anymore as much as we pretend we do? I think you all know the answer: ‘the powers that be’ have decided the people would rather be ‘safe’, although that safety is just a pathetic illusion.

    A sad day for liberty.

  9. Patricia Goldsmith said on June 13th, 2007 at 7:05am #

    Let me just say that one’s motives and intentions are ALWAYS taken into account when sentencing is passed, including premeditation and remorse (or lack of same) and future dangerousness. In fact, the question of premeditation is used to determine exactly what the crime is. All hate crime sentencing does is allow courts to impose additional penalties for crimes that intimidate whole groups of people.

    The fact that these laws, like all our laws, have been politicized by the right–the sentencing of eco-activists as terrorists being a case in point–doesn’t make the laws wrong. If that were true, we would immediately scrap all regulatory agencies in this country.

    I admit any law passed these days has the potential to be twisted, but the logical conclusion to that argument is that lawlessness is preferable.

    One last point about corporate speech: I do think that “shouting down” is a breach of free speech. When the only persons who can be heard are the ones with a corporate megaphone–using the public airwaves to promote only their point of view–we may still technically have free speech, but the corporations are the only ones who can effectively make themselves heard. That’s why we need to re-regulate the public airwaves to make sure all voices and views are able to be heard.

  10. atheo said on June 13th, 2007 at 11:50am #

    “I admit any law passed these days has the potential to be twisted, but the logical conclusion to that argument is that lawlessness is preferable. ”

    No, the logical conclusion is that equal justice under the law should be paramount. In fact, I challenge you to name any instance in which these laws have been used appropriately.

  11. Vincent Fischer said on June 13th, 2007 at 6:30pm #

    In general I find the tone of this article unnecessarily divisive and unhelpful. People should be brought together to fight for the common good. Don’t articles like this play into the hands of the powers that be? Doesn’t it serve the ends of the ruling elites, when the working class can be divided against one another?

    I oppose penalty enhancements. Equal protection under the law means that all are supposed to be equally protected. It is not necessary to create special categories. The killer of Mathew Sheppard weren’t sentenced under any particular “hate” law, but they were sentenced for the crime they did.

    The criminal justice system is broken. As a gay man and a progressive, I would not want to add to the prison system. The U.S. already imposes draconian sentences. If someone doesn’t like me because I am gay that is their right. I know that I am good person, a taxpayer and a productive member of society. I do not need the approval of others to feel good about myself. I am not that thin-skinned. Alas, I wish I could say the same about some of my gay compatriots. Some seem to think that acceptance can be legislated. On the other, hand should someone physically attack me there are already laws that impose criminal penalties for assault.

    Finally, Kurt Nimmo has a point. I oppose the state of Israel, as I dislike racism, apartheid and supremacists in general. Under Canadian Style hate laws I could indeed be prosecuted. Imagine that?

    Count me as a strong opponent of the “hate” crime laws on ethical, as well as legal grounds.

    I realize that there are entire industries, an armada of lawyers and lobbyists pushing for the “hate crimes” laws (which were written by the Israel lobby group the “The ADL”) That in and of itself should give people pause. Really, I hope people don’t fall for this.

    Anyway, thank goodness, I am not alone in opposing hate crime laws. Indeed there are intelligent and thoughtful fellow queers around…


  12. atheo said on June 13th, 2007 at 9:12pm #

    Thankyou for bringing up the obvious. Civilized countries have 30 year maximum sentences. Additional sentencing guidelines for hate crimes simply make a perverse system worse. Is it appropriate to be so vindictive in sentencing or is that an act of hate in and of itself? I too have found that the gay community in particular is suspicious of granting excessive power to government.

  13. Davol said on June 15th, 2007 at 12:16pm #

    First of all don’t get me wrong, I’m as liberal as they come, but here is my problem with hate crimes legislation. I always understood that detail of a case such as hate inspired violence would automatically influence the sentencing of the criminal. I think tagging an extra offense on the criminal’s case, which isn’t even a crime in America is fundamentally wrong and sure to be abused. That’s why I believe in the judge “legislating from the bench”, contrary to popular belief and Presidential catch phrases. It’s because the judge is there, and knows the details of a case that he should be allowed to determine the severity of the sentence based on those details. Prosecuting someone however, for a crime that isn’t a crime in America is just wrong. Like it or not, in America, land of the free, we can hate anybody we want. That’s a right I believe in embracing and defending. I just delete the stop the NRA Emails too.

  14. ATR said on June 19th, 2007 at 11:42pm #

    We all need protection from crimes. Making it a crime to ‘hate’ a group of people is making a thought crime.

    Precisely how would things have worked out differently and better from the perspective of justice in the Matthew Shepherd case if this federal hate crime legislation had existed then? Both of the murderers are in prison for their rest of their lives.

    What changes in legal terms if we tack on the notion that they killed him because they really, really hate homosexuals? Does that make you feel better? The law is not about making you feel better, it is about punishing crime.

    Hate crimes legislation is generally supported by people who want to show everybody else how wonderfully tolerant they are and how icky, yucky horrible they find the very notion that someone could dislike blacks, or whites, or Jews, or Christians, or homosexuals, or heterosexuals as a group. It’s about self-righteous people who want everyone else to think just like they do.

    Well, guess what, lots of people do hate groups of people and whether you like it or not you can’t legislate that away. What you can do is put their butts in jail if they commit a crime against those or any other people.

    The law should be about establishing justice in the real world, not building utopian fantasy worlds.