Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The Mongering Hordes

Charles C. Haynes, a prominent First Amendment scholar has an article, "Say what you want, hate-crimes bill protects free speech," on why the lunatic right wing's tizzy about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity (along with disability) as categories covered by federal hate-crimes statutes, is insane. Haynes notes:

Of the various arguments advanced by some social conservatives against the bill, the one that has gotten the most traction with the public is the charge that the legislation would “criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the crosshairs,” in the words of a letter sent to senators by 60 conservative leaders in June.

Scary stuff, but is it true?

To illustrate their fears, religious conservatives cite cases in Europe and Canada where a few pastors have been prosecuted in recent years for “hate speech” after they spoke out against homosexuality. These prosecutions are indeed insidious attacks on free speech and free exercise of religion – but they all occurred in countries without a First Amendment.

Haynes then goes on to explain (slowly and in simple terms, as is appropriate for the people buying such fear mongering) why the US Constitution and the legislation itself, which has provisions protecting speech and religious belief, render the prospect of any legal assault on preachers impossible. He also points out that we have long experience with similar state and local laws, where no such problem has even remotely arisen.

Just in case anyone thinks that Haynes is overstating the problem, remember that University of Washington biology student who trotted out that same guff in response the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling that the state's marriage law, which outlawed same-sex civil marriage, violated the equal protection provisions of the state's constitution? She cited, as "evidence" for her fear that churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages, a Swedish Supreme Court decision that overturned, even without benefit of our First Amendment, a conviction of a preacher under a hate speech law (which this legislation is not) for preaching against homosexuality. In short, she saw a situation that could hardly be any more different than our legal system as supposedly relevant to US laws and courts.

The most charitable interpretation of the blindness of people, otherwise intelligent and educated enough to get into a major university, to the baseless nature of their fears is that they have spent a lifetime being barraged by persecution claims by Christians preachers more interested in stroking their parishioners egos (by proclaiming their exceptionalism as nascent martyrs for God) and encouraging donations to stave off the barbarian hordes supposedly lurking just out of sight.

Religion is hardly the only place this sort of scam is practiced. Witness Bush's "War on Terrorism" and the abject fear of some to letting even cleared "detainees" step foot in the US.

But religion has had the most practice at it.

I think you should be a little more fearful of what the Hate Crimes bill will produce.

I realise that the UK doesn't have your 1st amendment, but it did have a long history of free speech.

This is long gone and laws created with, perhaps, good intentions have led to bad acts and biased reporting of crimes.

As I understand it, the bill you'll have allows sentences/fines of criminals to be increased and the federal state to interfer in what had been state matters.

Both seem bad to me.

The 1st because it says an assault upon a memebr of a particular group is worse than the same offence committed against someone not in the preferred/priviliged group. So not all are equal under the law.

The 2nd, well i don't like governments intruding into local affairs.

As I understand it, the bill you'll have allows sentences/fines of criminals to be increased ...

The rationale is this: when someone targets some minority disfavored by some segment of society for a violent crime simply because s/he is a minority, the motive is also to intimidate other members of the minority. In order to be prosecuted for a hate crime there has to be more than just that the victim was a minoity; there has to be evidence that the motivation was the victim's membership in the minority. That is deemed to be a separate crime warranting additional punishment. We routinely add additional punishment because of additional victims. However, since who and how much any particular member of the minority is intimidated is impossible to quantify, we do "rough justice" (which a lot of the law is) for those other victims by increasing the sentence. But the particular victim is not deemed more equal, it is that there are more than one victim.

and the federal state to interfer in what had been state matters.

The problem is that local law enforcement officials are often members of the very segment of society that hates the minority and, therefore, are not dispossed to prosecute even the underlying violent crime. We have a national standard of law as well as local laws and the Federal government has the right to enforce it.
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