Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hate crime legislation as punishing speech.

Wendy Kaminer had a great piece in the October 26th Wall Street Journal. In "The Return of the Though Police" she characterizes hate crimes as punishment of the thought or ideas that accompany a criminals commission of an act. That is, a "hate crime" is nothing more than a package of a crime and the thought that goes along with it. As such, it is a false concept, and leads to the politicization of crime.

Still, distinguishing hateful bias crimes from other hateful acts of violence punishes ideas and expression, no matter how scrupulously the legislation is crafted. When someone convicted of assaulting one woman is subject to an enhanced prison sentence or a more vigorous prosecution because his assault was motivated by a hateful belief in the inherent inferiority of all women, then he is being punished for his thoughts as well as his conduct.

I went searching for other expressions of this opinion and found two great op-eds at ARI. One by Robert Tracisnki and the other by ARI Director Yaron Brook.

1 comment:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Judging from news reports (always risky), I see two kinds of "hate crime" legislation emerging:

1. Crimes of violence punished with extra prison time because of the emotion of hate in the aggressor.

2. "Crimes" that entail no violence but which supposedly incite violence not because of specific calls for action but because the speaker demeans a racial, "ethnic," or religious group and thereby incites their violence.

The first type has emerged in the U. S., but BBC and other reports seem to be saying that European countries now have the second type as well. The first type is bad enough, but at least such laws punish aggressors.

The second type is an attack on freedom of speech. And note that the second type, if accurately reported in the news, seems to focus not just on the hatred of the speaker -- for example, a racist -- but also on the hatred the speaker supposedly stirs up and which might lead to violence by others in retailiation!

Burgess Laughlin