Monday, July 06, 2009

The Reality of Hate Crime Laws

I have argued here before that hate crimes legislation is an utterly arbitrary act of power, especially as it becomes a political reality. Even though we are able to point to legitimate and historical instances of systemic hate, as a matter of legislation, what groups get covered by hate crime laws is nothing but a matter of who is in power and the ideology they wish to impose.

Recently the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about the latest form of the law before Congress. Among the presentors was Attorney General, Eric Holder. His actual report is on the Senate website, and the Q&A in his testimony is in the web/video link.

He received a question from Senator Sessions about who is covered in this bill. The hypothetical situation went like this:

"[A] minister gives a sermon, quotes the Bible about homosexuality, is thereafter attacked by a gay activist because of what the minister said about his religious beliefs and what Scripture says about homosexuality."

Is the Christian minister covered under this law? AG Holder responded:

“Well, the statute would not -- would not necessarily cover that. We're talking about crimes that have a historic basis. Groups who have been targeted for violence as a result of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, that is what this statute tends -- is designed to cover. We don't have the indication that the attack was motivated by a person's desire to strike at somebody who was in one of these protected groups. That would not be covered by the statute.”

So, the long and the short of it is that speech derived from the Christian worldview is not covered because it does not fit into the agenda upheld by Holder and the lobby groups behind him. This is a perfect case in point for the arbitrary and subjective nature of these laws. They are not aimed at protecting victims, but at suppressing certain kinds of speech through acts of power.

And it raises another important question for the practicality for these kinds of silly laws: who wins when competing victim groups are involved? Rationally, this kind of politicized victimhood should make it clear to us this is a ridiculous path to tread down, but in reality, some lobbying group has enough money and influence to make themselves the most victimized of the victimized.


Tom Gilson said...

Was the follow-up question asked?

"Mr. Holder, which of these is protected under the First Amendment--religious belief and practice, or sexual beliefs and practice?"

Phil Steiger said...

Good question!