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Congress Decides to Punish Thought Crimes

May 4th, 2009 · 8 Comments ·

Like something out of a dystopian novel by Philip K. Dick or George Orwell, the House of Representatives has voted to endorse the idea of prosecuting people for the thoughts in their heads rather than actual crimes they commit in the real world.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913) passed the House last week with a 247 to 175 vote. Although most Republicans opposed it, 18 of them supported it. Support came overwhelmingly from Democrats, only 17 of whom voted against it. The bill will now be sent on to the Senate where there is some concern that with even less input from Republicans the scope of the bill will be expanded to include unpopular speech as a hate crime. If it’s going to be stopped it will also have to be in the Senate, because if it passes there it will certainly be signed into law.

No one should ever be murdered or be targeted for robbery or violence because of their race or religion or sexual orientation, but there isn’t any other justifiable reason why they should be subjected to these crimes either. The crimes are just as unpleasant for the victim regardless of what the mindset or motivation of the criminal is.

We already have laws on the books at the state and federal level to appropriately punish any possible crime based on the severity of the harm done and even considerations like “special circumstances” of unusual cruelty or the age or nature of the victim. What has never been a factor in criminal prosecution is motivation of the criminal, because crimes are wrong regardless of what motivates them. The man who steals to feed his family is still a thief. The man who kills a child because the child kept him awake by crying is still a murderer. Someone who is beaten and left in a coma suffers just as much and is just as much a victim regardless of whether the motivation was robbery, his sexual orientation or the random madness of the attacker.

Our legal system is based on the idea that all men are equal under the law and that you get the same justice if you’re rich or poor, man or woman, gay or straight. A victim is a victim and a criminal is a criminal and crimes are punished because they are crimes, not because of who committed them or who they targeted. That’s a fair and unbiased application of justice. When you start creating special classes of victims or of criminals, you take the fairness out of the system and grant special privileges to some people which others don’t enjoy. You set some people above others, declaring that their suffering is more important just because of who they are. To do this makes the law unequal and oppressive and is absolutely antithetical to the idea of a society based on the idea of universal equality.

If you accept the doctrine of racial inequality which is behind this hate crimes bill and that some victims are more victimized because of who they are or what the criminal thought about them, then the next logical step is to start treating criminals differently based on considerations like race or gender or sexual preference. Murder is only assault if you’re a woman. Robbery isn’t even a crime if you’re a member of an ethnic minority. A beating is a friendly handshake if the perpetrator is gay. It’s the road to the complete breakdown of justice, because for the law to be just it must be applied equally.

Look at it another way. If the sentence for murder is life and a racial motivation adds 10 years to the sentence as this bill proposes, then you are giving out 10 years in jail solely for being a racist. Set the murder, which is already a crime, aside and you are punishing someone solely for the thoughts in his head. You couldn’t send someone to jail for thinking racist thoughts and writing them down and even publishing them. Why can you add to his sentence for thinking those thoughts while committing a crime? The most scary part is that the next step from here is punishing the thoughts without even bothering to have an associated crime.

This law is pointless and largely symbolic because it only applies in federal jurisdiction anyway. It’s just a bone thrown to special interest groups on the left to reward their loyalty while doing nothing for anyone except the occasional gay park ranger who gets mauled by a homophobic bear. The cost of this sort of pandering is huge. It debases the entire legal system, making a mockery of the principle of equality before the law on which our justice system is based. When you give select groups a superior status in the eyes of the law you make everyone else a second-class citizen. That may appear like justice to some, but it only looks like justice when it cuts your way. When it’s your thoughts or your unpopular ideas which are targeted it’s going to look like tyranny, because that’s exactly what it is.

Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at IdiotWars.com.

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Circa Bellum // May 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Historically speaking, hate crime laws already on the books, punish minorities disproportionately. Another example of the law of unintended consequences.

  • 2 Dave // May 6, 2009 at 1:25 am

    CB, the laws don’t punish minorities disproportionately, the prosecutors, law enforcement and juries do. A hate crimex law isn’t going to fix that.

    Dave

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  • 4 Robert Berger // May 8, 2009 at 9:40 am

    While I agree with you up to a point,I do think conservatives have been wringing their hands a little too much about these stories,because they are not necessarily accurate.
    It may be true that liberals,at least extremist ones are guilty of politically correct excesses, but conservatives are an equal threat to our freedoms,albeit in different ways,and pobably worse than anything left-wingers are trying to do.
    If ledt-wingers want to censor our speech,and criminalize what they perceive to be bias and politically incorrect speech etc, many conservatives want to interfere with what consenting adults do in private,such as gay people, ban books,magazines, films and television programs etc which they consider”indecent”, “Obscene”,or “blasphemous”, even though not every one agrees with what is offensive.
    Some today want to censor things as innocuous as Harry Potter, andthe Fox comedy cartoon The Family Guy,or films and TV programs they consider religiously offensive.
    Many also want to ban men’s magazines, racy movies, gambling, and other things.
    There is widespread homophobia among those of the right, disguised as expressions of religious piety.
    Let’s face it; the pot should not call the kettle black.

  • 5 Dave Nalle // May 8, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Rober, I’m not the pot or the kettle. I’m equally against BOTH kinds of unjustifiable suppression of rights. It just happens that the left is in power now, so they have the ability to pursue this agenda. If the religious right were in a position to actually do anything then I’d worry about them. They’re two sides of the same coin.

    However, I do think that there is a growing body of people within the Republican Party who want to oppose the excesses of the left and are fed up with the extremists and one-issue advocates in their own party. I’m with them.

    Dave

  • 6 Seth Strong // May 8, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Not all thoughts are equal and deserving of protection. The ax that cuts the deserving from the undeserving is not named popularity. At some point a state has to put its values to the test by passing legislation that codifies those values and allowing those laws to be tested in the courts. Crimes are crimes because of consequence. But we should be careful when protecting our freedoms to consider the world to our ability that we are not providing a safe haven for insidious ignorance that would perpetuate itself on the next generation. The example in this text was racism. Racism is not welcome here. Like most things it is easier to set the label out there like a well defined problem and it isn’t. There is racist language and racist acts and often the most debilitating acts aren’t made by people wielding racial language. So it’s fair to argue and discuss the edges of what is or isn’t included in racism, but when we’re done, we should discourage its use as a motivation. If you are racist, you should be extra sensitive about how that will appear when you burgle a member of your hated race’s apartement. It looks extra bad. And the legislation is confirming that other people have noticed that as well.

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