Monday, May 07, 2007

Hate Crimes Bill: LRP!!! (Long, Ranty Post Warning!)

According to the Traditional Values Coalition, H.R. 1592 is a bad, bad thing. That's what they said in their latest email, at least. And if there's one thing I know, it's that you can always trust everything you read in emails ... hm?

HR 1592, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007," (it's so much easier just to type HR 1592, by the way), allows the federal government to assist local and state governments prosecuting hate crimes. In defining a hate crime, the language of the bill says, in part, that "Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person--..."

Of course, for the TVC, it is the inclusion of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" that makes this legislation so bad. They claim the bill would make it so that a preacher who speaks out against homosexuality, thereby inciting a congregant to commit a hate crime against a homosexual person would be held criminally accountable by this bill. Or, as they put it, the House of Representatives "slapped Christians in the face" by passing this bill.

(Ranting begins here):
Never mind that the bill itself would prohibit the very thing they describe. It says, "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution." In other words, it is no threat whatsoever to free speech. I wonder how the TVC could have overlooked this?

The answer, of course, is that the TVC and others in their general vicinity on this issue are willfully disregarding facts that do not support their cause. They pretend that this is all about freedom of expression, when in reality it is about the promotion of their own anti-gay agenda, cloaked as it is in the guise of faithful Christianity. Give me a break.

Maybe it's just because I'm in a grumpy mood today (end of a busy, stressful day), but it makes me sick to read about a self-described Christian group whose OFFICIAL POSITION is AGAINST prohibiting "willful bodily injury" to another person, whether they think that person is a sinner or NOT! I mean, shouldn't we Christians kind of be against willful bodily injury to another person, considering all that willful bodily injury inflicted on Jesus for our sakes way back when? Or was that only for straight people? At face value, the position of the TVC seems to be that it is okay to commit willful bodily injury against certain groups of people, or at the very least that it is not an issue they see as problematic. I mean, does someone there actually think through these things? I can't imagine that is really how they want to be perceived.

And with regard to this idea that a preacher's hateful sermon may invoke someone to commit a hate crime and that they would then be held criminally accountable, my first reaction is to try to imagine what kind of sermon it would be that would incite such a response. Heckuva preacher! And then I imagine what might happen if that preacher whose sermons were capable of inciting such action preached a sermon about making disciples of Jesus Christ instead, thereby inciting the congregation to actually spread scriptural holiness throughout the land instead of deciding and naming whom to hate.

I, as a preacher, actually like to think that I may be responsible for some of the things the congregation does upon hearing one of my sermons. "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24) seems to be a pretty fitting motivation for a sermon, don't you think? What are preachers doing if not trying to inspire, provoke, motivate, and invite a spirit-filled, Christ-centered response? Seems to me that some accountability in the process may be a good thing. The worst thing I'll ever inspire from my sermons is lethargy, to be sure, not a hurtful criminal action. And yet I ought to held accountable even when my preaching inspires nothing more than lethargy, rather than love.

Some more level-headed opponents leave the whole nutty-Christian-extreme-right-thing aside and argue that the bill is not necessary, on the grounds that hate crimes are already being prosecuted at the local level. This is what the current occupant is citing to support his intention to veto the bill when it arrives on his desk. Okay, that's a different argument. However, reading the entire bill, I don't find it redundant at all. In fact, the bill authorizes federal asssistance for local prosecution of hate crimes only if
"`(A) the State does not have jurisdiction or does not intend to exercise jurisdiction;
`(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;
`(C) the State does not object to the Federal Government assuming jurisdiction; or
`(D) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence."

But my primary rant tonight (I know it's not as ranty as my brother can get at times, but I'm aspiring) has had to do with how a Christian group can twist the faith enough to find the ethical framework from which to actually argue against passing an anti-hate-crime bill. Christians have not been "slapped in the face" with this bill, but all Christians suffer when one nutty group of us makes a claim like that.

(Ranting complete.)

Seriously though, maybe someone can explain for me why a Christian would be against HR 1592 in a way that I can make some sense of. I would welcome that dialogue.


Larry B said...

Just a few thoughts.

Hate crime legislation is bothersome to me for a couple of reasons:

1. It attempts to put a hiearchy on violence against human beings. Whether a crime against another is hate motivated or not, it is still a crime. What is attempting to be put into this bill is the idea that hate crimes against homosexuals are "more heinous" than non homosexual crimes. One particular blog from an Indiana LGBT activist put it this way

"Making the punishment fit the crime: Hate crimes enhancements recognize the fact that hate crimes hurt the victim more than a non-hate motivated parallel crime"

That seems to be twisted logic to me. If I am beaten senseless by someone because I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time or because they don't like me because of some trait, I still feel brutalized and victimized and I still had a crime committed against me.

2. Referring back to the quote from the blog, it seems to me to smack of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth philosophy that Jesus taught against. The crime is already punishable, but in our thirst for revenge, we want to add more punishment. It seems to me to be motivated out of a desire to extract revenge. We all seem to admire Christians who forgive even the murderers of their own family members, some even fighting to free the murderer from prison, so why would we as Christians want to codify into law something that moves us further down the road of extracting revenge?

3. Another assertion made by the lgbt blog I referenced was that

"Hate crimes are committed by people who think what they're doing isn't wrong."

In many cases in our judicial system people are found less culpable if they are found unable to distinguish right and wrong. Now we are attempting to add more culpability and more punsihment to someone who is characterized as not even knowingly comitting a crime.

It seems counterintuitive to me and against Methodist principles to provide harsher jail terms to someone like that, when what is needed is more education and learning up front.

Secondly statistics show that most hate crimes are committed by mostly young adult males under the age of 24. No one is born hating another group. These are learned prejudices. I fail to see how adding more prison time to these young persons will enable them to learn and overcome these prejudices. I would venture to say this is counter to much of what our own Methodist social principles would advocate. I think the proper response to hate crimes would be to push for more education at the school levels to eliminate prejudice rather than more punishment.

So I don't think hate crime legislation is good legislation for those reasons. And I would be fundamentally oppose to any further entrenchment of the bad ideas contained in hate crime legislation.

One last observation, you rightly point out that there is a lot of resistance to this bill because it is being driven hard by the LGBT community. The legislation is being called the Matthew Shepherd act. Nearly 8 years have gone by, 2 consecutive life sentences for the perpetrator, and it seems to me that the gay community is still seeking some kind of emotional redress through legislation. There is also the Christian value of forgiveness which applies equally to all of us. I'm not diminishing the crime, nor did the punishment for the perpetrator reflect any diminishment. I'm merely wondering if there comes a time when we have to say that forgiveness is a part of the process and that we need to move on. The laws already on the books adress the crimes. I don't think we should add more if the motivation is to soothe emotional wounds. Those can only be healed through personal forgiveness, not legislation.

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for surfacing this issue Andy. Larry makes some good points ... probably the ones I would have made if I were up at midnight and I was as smart as Larry.

I think that this kind of 'hate crime' legislation is more about our government trying to make a statement than it is trying to solve a problem. A lot of time, energy and money has gone into a bill that will probably be vetoed. I wish that our government would somehow learn to operate a bit more efficiently. Alas, I dozed off again and landed in dreamworld.

Donna said...

Thanks, Andy.

Andy B. said...

Larry B.
As always, you have given me a lot to think about. First response: there is a difference between a crime in which the victim is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and a crime in which the victim is targeted for a specific trait. Yes, the victim may feel the same pain, but I do not react the same way to a crime that is "random violence" as I do to a deliberate, willfull act motivated by a particular circumstance of the victim's life, and it seems to me my reaction is not uncommon. In our legal system, certain crimes are more heinous than others already, manslaughter to murder, etc. I just can't agree that "a crime is a crime."

I hear what you are saying with regard to affirming "restorative justice" over "retributive justice," and I fully agree. In line with UM principles, I support systems that hold the offender accountable to the victim and the community, rather than only to the state. And I reject any justice system motivated by revenge or intimidation. I guess I understand the identification of hate crimes as a part of the communal healing process. We have to name the sickness before we can find a cure.

That's my initial response, and I will continue to mull this issue over. Your thoughts are always helpful for my mulling - thanks.

J said...

If simple assault (sans hate crime criteria) is worth 5 years but assault (hate crime) is worth 10 years then then the hate crime criteria is effectively punished as an equal separate crime.

Are we willing to punish the thoughts of an offender equal to the action?

Is malice motivated by profit any less malicious then malice motivated by hate? In other words, is assault for robbery better than assault for hate?

A devil's advocate could argue that a hate crime offender should be afforded more mercy. After all, hate crime offenders are merely expressing misplaced anger.