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Punish Crime, Not The Thought

October 12, 2009

Punish Crime, Not The Thought

IBD: 12 Oct. 2009

‘Hate’ Crimes: The House has voted to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. Aside from violating the Constitution’s equal-protection clause, just what does this have to do with national defense?

The House voted 281 to 146 Thursday to make it a crime to attack homosexuals and others. The measure was attached to a must-pass $680 billion defense bill. We think the amendment itself is a crime against common sense and the law.

Saying “it’s a very exciting day for us here in the Capitol,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998.

What Pelosi neglected to say was that Shepard’s killers were each given double life sentences and have said since that money and drugs motivated their actions, not animus toward homosexuals.

Whatever their motivation, their criminal act was prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and they received the maximum punishment without hate crimes legislation.

Similarly, no hate crimes legislation was needed that same year when James Byrd, an African-American, was dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas. Byrd’s murderers were quickly arrested, tried and convicted. Two were sentenced to death, and the third, to life in prison.

“Democrats have done a great disservice to the brave men and women of our armed forces today by using them as leverage to pass radical social policy,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner. “They engineered this abuse of the legislative process because they had no other way to pass legislation that is unconstitutional and just plain wrong.”

When the amendment was introduced in the Senate this summer, even the ACLU voiced concerns over its broad sweep. “An otherwise unremarkable violent crime should not become a federal hate (crime) simply because the defendant visited the wrong Web site, belonged to a group espousing bigotry or subscribed to a magazine promoting discriminatory views, however repugnant those beliefs may be,” the group said.

“All violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, no matter what the circumstances,” Boehner added. “The Democrats’ ‘thought crimes’ legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal, and should be defended with equal vigilance.” So do we.

One thing we fear is that this added punishment for distasteful motives will be used as a bludgeon to enforce politically correct social policy. If a preacher in a pulpit, for example, expresses a belief that homosexuality and gay marriage are sins, will the preacher be silenced and prosecuted as inciting people to commit hate crimes?”

Making it a federal offense to commit violent acts against people because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation is a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. It says that criminals who assault you because of, say, the color of your skin will be treated differently from those who assault you because of the color of your money.

The idea that a “hate crime” is worse than any other crime sends a message to those who are murdered, raped, mugged or otherwise assaulted that their lives and their injuries are of less concern and of less importance because their assailants were blessedly free of bigotry.

Should people who prey on minorities, homosexuals, or women be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent possible? Emphatically yes. But while it may be more onerous to abuse someone for merely being different, the government is supposed to protect us against other people’s actions, not other people’s feelings or motives.

Should two otherwise identical rapes, robberies, assaults or murders be treated differently simply because of the presence or absence of a racial or sexual epithet or impure thought? To judge perpetrators by their motives instead of by their actions, to punish some more heavily than others for identical crimes, is to violate a bedrock principle of American justice: equal protection under the law.

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