Saturday, July 07, 2007

Point/Counterpoint on Hate Crimes Laws

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch features two articles on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. Dyana Mason of Equality Virginia writes from the "pro" side, and I write from the "con" side.

My article was submitted at the invitation of the newspaper's op-ed editor, who contacted me upon the recommendation of Barticles blogger Bart Hinkle (who is also a Times-Dispatch editorial writer).

I had written on hate-crimes laws in the past, both around the time of Matthew Shepard's murder and after the Roanoke gay bar shootings mentioned by Dyana Mason in her article. This is the first time I have addressed the issue based on the current status of hate-crimes legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Noting that there have been several earlier attempts to pass federal hate-crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation-bias in its purview, I write:

The latest iteration of this legislation is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 3 and now under consideration by the Senate.

One might oppose this bill for the wrong reasons, motivated by an animus against gay and lesbian Americans that refuses to acknowledge them in the law.

One might also oppose this bill for the right reasons, supporting the dignity of gay individuals but objecting on constitutional, legal, and philosophical grounds.
The rest of the article takes those three categories and discusses (as much as one can do within a 700-word limit, even while citing expert opinion from the Cato Institute and Reason magazine) why Congress should, once again, reject hate crimes law as a federal policy. I conclude:
Hateful thoughts may be repugnant to us, but they are not crimes in themselves. And crimes that follow hateful thoughts -- whether vandalism, assault, or murder -- are already punishable by existing statutes.

Passing this bill would also be wrong because it suggests that crimes against some people are worse than crimes against others. Hate-crime laws set up certain privileged categories of people, defined by the groups to which they belong, and offers them unequal protection under the law.

Beyond this philosophical objection, however, federal hate-crime laws – those on the books now, those proposed – are outside the scope of the authority granted Congress by the Constitution. New laws of this type should be rejected; older laws should be repealed.
This is, of course, the basic libertarian position that aims to restrict the size and scope of the federal government.

I am looking forward to seeing if the Times-Dispatch prints any letters to the editor in response to these two articles. In the meantime, gentle readers, please feel free to submit comments here.

Update: Both the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership blog and Equality Loudoun mention these two articles today, with links to the Times-Dispatch op-ed page as well as to this blog.

Additional Update: Coy Barefoot saw the two articles in Saturday's paper and invited me to appear on his WINA-AM radio show. I will be joining Coy on Monday, July 16, from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m.

Yet Another Update: The Independent Gay Forum has reprinted my article from the Times-Dispatch. It is the latest of four articles I have written that have been picked up by the iconoclastic web site.


James Young said...

Good piece, Rick.

David said...

Rick, thank you for pointing out my goofy error.

Although I ultimately disagree, I think these are well-reasoned arguments and that you present them exceptionally well. My question is why, if there are well-reasoned arguments to be made that could win people over, opponents of this legislation rely instead on a campaign of flat-out lies about freedom to read from the Bible?

And if the answer to that is that manipulating gullible people to demand that their representatives reject this legislation is the only way to defeat it, do the ends justify the means? If these people aren't taking informed positions, how does that translate into good governance?

Rick Sincere said...

If people make arguments based on misinformation, misunderstanding, or plain lies, they do not speak for me, nor do I speak for them.

As to the deteriorating quality of political discourse -- well, that horse left the barn long, long ago.

David said...

Fair enough.

James Young said...

David asks "why, if there are well-reasoned arguments to be made that could win people over, opponents of this legislation rely instead on a campaign of flat-out lies....?"

Before he attacks those opposing such legislation by reference to behavior in other countries with legislation reflecting similar attitudes (I recall vividly at least one story of a clergyman being prosecuted for his teaching on this subject, though I would probably concede that this is not possible under this legislation... absent a Mike Nifong/Patrick Fitzgerald type), perhaps he should direct that question to his allies on the far Left who keep smearing the Bush Administration about "lying" us into a war in Iraq, or challenge the President's election in 2000.

It would seem that the complaint about such strategies is of rather recent (and subjectively-applied) vintage.

James Young said...

I should note that it was a foreign clergyman. Canada or a Scandinavian country, if memory serves.

Simon said...

Rick, I found your blog from the gay libertarian group on Connexion.

I am wondering...why do you have a bigot like James Young on your blog list? This man openly refers to homosexuality as a "perversion" on his blog.

I too am against hate crimes laws for the same reason you are, but I refuse to ally myself with someone whose paranoid superstitions extend to the point of degrading an aspect of my personal life.

I don't get it.