Thursday, May 7, 2009

Misinformed Hate

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 has been met with immense criticism from the right. Going so far as to say that the brutal death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay Wyoming man killed in 1998, was a hoax, those opposed to the recently passed legislation are screaming about free speech and shouting from their soap boxes that any legislation passed that protects the minorities included in this bill is infringing their rights at the price of offering special rights to those minorities.

What the far right seems to ignore in all the shouting is that the bill itself isn't offering anyone "extra" rights or an extension of rights, it simply gives the Attorney General of the United States the authority to provide "federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes" related to the carrying out of a hate crime. Perhaps in Idaho, the increasingly libertarian right takes exception to the very wording of this legislation because it defines hate crimes as any crime "motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the state, local, or tribal hate crime laws." Holding true to their position that the federal government should have a limited role in the laws and general operation of the States, the right may point to Idaho's statute on hate crimes which only defines a hate crime as one motivated by "race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin" and shutter at the attempt of the federal government to expand on that statute. The far right in Idaho see no need for protection based on sexual orientation, gender or disability. Their position either seems to be one of ignorance (i.e. hate crimes perpetuated against gays, lesbians, etc. don't exist here) or one much more cynical in it's perception of what the groups addressed in the federal legislation deserve (i.e. God hates gays, so the State should also and do nothing to protect a "chosen lifestyle"). Much will and has been said over the past several years about gays and whether or not they should be included in hate crime legislation in Idaho, yet nothing seems to surface regarding the necessary protection of the disabled that does not exist here.

While I would hope that my words could speak to the general disagreement between the left and right on what constitutes a hate crime and who should be protected, I find the words of my colleague and professor emeritus at Idaho State University's Eli M. Oboler Library, Leonard Hitchcock, far more important to share. In response to an utterly despicable piece published in the Idaho State Journal and included online in their political blog, Mr. Hitchcock addresses the misinformation campaign that exists regarding the inclusion of gays in the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, otherwise referred to as the Hate Crimes Bill, and how the right has suggested that the legislation stifles speech as well as violence. An extended excerpt:
A great hue and cry has been raised by the radical right regarding the allegedly dire threat to our liberties posed by recent legislation officially known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (hereafter, the Hate Crimes Bill).

The claim being made is that the new federal law, which provides for federal assistance to local, state and tribal law enforcement officials in the investigation and prosecution of suspected hate crimes, is unnecessary, unconstitutional and an attempt to enforce “political correctness,” which an ISJ columnist identifies as “the greatest culprit leading to a degeneration of our culture and diluting our freedom of speech.”

...Anyone who reads the bill will find that it addresses only “crimes of violence,” not occurrences of hate speech or thought...

...Hate crimes pose an unusually serious threat to public order... We all feel a special abhorrence for hate crimes, because their victims are innocent, in just the same way that those in the Twin Towers on 9/11 were innocent.

It’s odd that rightists, who so enjoy venting their rage at terrorists, seem unaware that terrorism is usually a hate crime. Moreover, hate crimes, though they consist in violent acts against individuals, are actually attacks upon groups. They are intended to “send a message,” and that message is “It doesn’t matter whether I know you or not, it doesn’t matter that you’ve done me no harm, it doesn’t matter if you’re a good person or a bad one: all that matters is that you are (black, white, Jewish, atheist, Christian, Tutsi, Mexican….); for that reason alone, you are my enemy and you may be next!”

We all belong to identifiable groups. We all, under the right circumstances, can be victims of hate crimes. Is it any wonder that we establish laws designed to prevent them? And is it any wonder that we become uneasy when we hear religious leaders declare that: “God hates Jews; they killed Christ” or “God hates Christians; they deny Mohammed” or “God hates homosexuals; they disgust Him”? God, as we all know, has often been invoked as an effective ally of those who wish to mobilize human hatred against those who are different.

We do, as a matter of fact, hear such pulpit pronouncements in this country, and we will no doubt continue to hear them. That is testimony to the fact that, though we may pass laws that punish hate crimes, we will not abandon our commitment to Constitutional rights. My advice to the preachers of such messages is, “Please feel free to inform your congregations that God detests gays; but it might be wise to also warn them that if they choose to act out their righteous hatred, they will pay an extra price for doing so.”

Keeping in mind that Mr. Hitchcock is responding to a piece that quoted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) as saying, "Their agenda is to shut down preaching of faith from the pulpit. Their agenda is to force public approval of the homosexual agenda [a]nd destroying marriage nationally is the follow-up piece of this,” and that the columnist praised the Family Research Council that was also quoted as having stated those supporting the Hate Crimes Bill have an "agenda is to shut down preaching of faith from the pulpit...[and] to force public approval of the homosexual agenda. And destroying marriage nationally is the follow-up piece of this,” he was obligated to address the issues of gay rights, free speech and religion, but certainly his position, I'm assuming, and that of many is inclusive of the other minorities that could be targeted by hate crimes.

The author of the first piece has already responded. His comment, available for viewing on the ISJ blog makes sure to point out what he sees as flaws in Mr. Hitchcock's argument:

The more political correctness is “crammed down our throats,” the more it does have an impact on freedom of speech. Even though this “hate crimes” bill provides extra protection to classes of people deemed essentially “protected classes,” the course seems clear to me that restriction on speech, though not codified, is affected nonetheless. It’s legislative incrementalism at its best. Provide extra protection to certain classes of people; expand the definition of what a crime is based on “hate;” thereby allowing broad classes of people from a certain ideological perspective to be identified as belonging to “hate groups,” (i.e. Fundamentalist Christians); and punish or limit such members from using language that is “hate” (i.e. not tolerant to the protected classes) based. This bill is just one more step to enforced political correctness.
The first columnist, Mr. Richard Larsen, was arguing that Congress has no sense of or respect for the Constitution and that they are forcing political correctness on the American people with this bill (how when the bill does not ask the American people to do a thing and simply offers authority to the Attorney General, is another matter). I find it quite interesting that he attempts to define hatred as an intolerance for minorities, or as he calls them "protected classes" in his response as if to say that others might be intolerant, yet he expresses an amount of disdain regularly for the columns of Mr. Hitchcock, an Atheist, which he would never consider hate, but the rest of us keeping score at home certainly would consider hate. Perhaps Mr. Larsen is carrying on about hate and intolerance because he himself is guilty. I certainly believe so. What is it they say--he doth protest too much?

While Virginia Foxx is carrying on about a hoax, Steve King is crying about a Congress that he holds membership in cramming a lifestyle down our throats, and Richard Larsen is spreading lies that appear to be full of hatred for members of his own community, some of us are watching this and wondering why the right has latched onto their hatred of gays and opposed legislation that makes mention of them as a group when in all reality if they looked around in their immediate and extended families they'd surely find someone who could easily be a victim of a hate crime. In my own family, I think of my two siblings who are developmentally disabled and know that in other places in this country and all over the world people just like them have been beaten and killed simply because they don't function at the level of most. I think of those I live with and care for at an assisted living facility and wonder how much of the hatred they must deal with from members of the community on a daily basis could easily turn violent. They, like all of the other minorities addressed in this hate crimes legislation, are not tolerated by many, simply because they look a little different, act a little different and maybe have a different set of beliefs. That's the reality that men and women like Virginia Foxx, Steve King and Richard Larsen have lost sight of. And thankfully, Mr. Hitchcock is cognizant of this and is just as willing as I am to say so.

(Editor's Note: The text of "A reality check on the Hate Crimes Bill" by Leonard Hitchcock was used with the author's permission.)

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