Ian Murray at The Edge of England’s Sword has an interesting post on a proposal by British MP and Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to ban expressions of religious hatred. He’s not impressed.
I couldn’t help but think how his arguments apply to the larger issue of hate crimes in general. Here’s an example:
A man is assaulted and beaten unconcious by a white supremist because he’s ‘a nigger’.
A man is assaulted and beaten unconcious by a deranged homophobe because he’s ‘a fag’.
A man is assaulted and beaten unconcious by a street thug for his wallet.
In cases 1 & 2, a hate crime has occurred. In case 3, a robbery. Yet in each case the hypothetical victim was assaulted and beaten unconcious. The end result, the injury sustained, was identical. Were we to punish these crimes diffferently, what would be the rationale? That an additional crime is committed by virtue of the perpetrator’s thoughts? It’s difficult, to say the least, to determine a person’s motivation. How do you see into a person’s heart? What is to be the measure of the ‘hatred’ if the end result is equivalent? Is crime #2 more hateful than crime #3?
Are hate crimes to be extended to words? Some spoken words are crimes. It is criminal to incite a riot. Should it be a crime to make a racist statement? After all, one could claim harm in hearing or reading it. Or is it better to allow the larger community to speak as they will, depending on their good sense and self interest to sort the good from the bad. And as Ian points out, when you criminalize hate aren’t you creating an incentive for people to feel victimized? Will we, in each of our respective religious and ethnic groups, be parsing every comment and criticism trying to determine if it’s motivated by hate? What a playground for the race-card, religion-card, you-name-it-card demagogues. They’ll have a field day. “I don’t like the way that sounded. I feel hated. I’m filing charges.” Can we expect waves of class-action lawsuits? “What you said was hateful and 30 million people are insulted. Now pay up.” How will that chill the public discourse? Why venture criticism if you might be charged (then sued) for hate speech.
One could go on to make an analogy with the Salem witch trials. The real ‘crime’ wasn’t necessarily the dancing in the woods, it’s whether the dancing was done as an act of unchristian worship – are you a witch? Motivation is the crime. What is in your heart. We’ll have about as much success determining the contents of a person’s heart in a courtroom as they had by dunking the accused witches into ponds.
Let’s judge deeds, not try to peer into souls. In that direction lies the tyranny of the minority, the balkanization of the citizens and the crushing of dissent.