Hate Crime Legislation

October 27, 1998
In the last two weeks there has been a renewed push for hate crime laws. Bills before the House and Senate would vastly expand federal authority by adding categories of gender, sexual orientation, and disability. And since both federal and state authorities would have jurisdiction, the possibility of double prosecution for hate crimes looms large.

Columnist John Leo says there is a basic problem with hate crime laws. "They divide victims into two categories: those whose skulls are cracked by perpetrators who get six months in jail, let us say, and those whose skulls are better protected legally, earning perpetrators nine months in jail or more."

That, of course, is the first major flaw with hate crime laws. They provide special protection for minorities (who are listed in the law) but provide no special protection for the general population. As John Leo puts it, "If all skulls are equally valuable, as the first line of the Declaration of Independence says they are, then why don't all skull crackings deserve similar sentences?"

A second flaw in hate crime laws is the flawed assumption that enhanced penalties deter crimes. First, there is no evidence of this. Most of these crimes are "crimes of passion" and are not likely to be influenced by greater criminal penalties. Second, the argument for greater deterrence usually comes from those who argue that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. Do they really believe that a hate crime law deters a criminal simply because he or she might spend a few extra months in jail?

To be effective, hate crime laws require law enforcement officials to judge the motives, language, and actions of the criminal. Police shouldn't be put in the role of judging insults and epithets. We don't need more hate crime laws, we need less.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International