"Hate crime" laws disrespect free speech, invite abuse
That there was any media coverage at all of an act of vandalism in downtown New Orleans provides more demonstration about how the concept of “hate crimes,” besides potentially encouraging more crime, puts us on a slippery slope to deprivation of liberty.
Punish if caught the miscreant who, regardless of and for whatever the reason only for destruction of property. That includes if staging it in an attempt to connect those who oppose policy that legally legitimizes homosexual lifestyles to common vandals in order to advance the opposite agenda. Independently of that outcome, the U.S., its states including Louisiana, and their local jurisdictions should get rid of any hate crimes statutes. Use of them only invites degradation of the respect our society has for the free exchange of idea and opinion, and tempts government to become ever more oppressive.
This past weekend, a pair of homeowners in the Warehouse District awoke to find spayed onto a painted shutter a term some find derogatory in reference to those who practice homosexuality, and stolen a flag symbolizing the same, some of which was caught on video recordings. Both are visible advocates for increased legitimizing by government of homosexual lifestyles, one having recently written an opinion piece in the local media decrying alleged civil rights violations in state public policy. No doubt because of that visibility, and perhaps because one owner for decades was a fixture in the state’s media who now heads an advocacy group, local media covered the very minor crime where others of the same kind almost always draw a yawn.
But that it provided extensive coverage of the event – much more than for most far more serious crimes – may have been the lure that it constituted a “hate crime.” New Orleans defines that as “an act or omission defined as an offense by city ordinance other than this section, or by state or federal law, a motive for the commission of which is the actual or perceived race, age, religion, color, creed, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property.” It is a secondary offense ties to another where the penalty recommended is the maximum of the primary offense and includes mandatory behavioral counseling.
Unfortunately, the hate crime concept is widely dispersed among legal codes despite having little rationality or logic behind it, as it brings in a matter irrelevant to the harm, motive, that prompts a harsher penalty that, because of that irrelevancy, does nothing to deter commission of the primary crime. And because of the psychological tendency to think that the greater the penalty, the more serious the crime that therefore garners more attention, since there is no original deterrent present, every incentive is there to use the concept as a cudgel against a disliked set of political beliefs.
While among the many reported instances of fakery here had the false assertion stemming from some kind of personal agenda, some of these do have political motives. This kind of shilling for an agenda, by drawing negative attention to an opposing set of views in order to delegitimize it by staging a “hate crime” supposedly derived from those views, is made more attractive by being able to designate the faux act by that label and privileged legal status. These laws and they alone cause this unnecessary distress to society’s consciousness and waste taxpayer resources in needless investigation, creating the additional crime of false reporting.
Yet of far more serious concern is the easy way in which these laws can cross over into suppressing free expression concerning political ideas that harm no one. For example, another New Orleans ordinance makes illegal, as part of disturbing the peace the interrupting of “any lawful assembly of people by the use of words where such words, by their very utterance, inflict injury” (emphasis mine). And just how does government decide on “such words” that attain a status of such inherent worthlessness as speech and become so negative that by definition they rise to the level of disturbing the peace?
It’s not difficult to realize how easy it would be for government to fuse hate crime standards onto this and to prosecute free speech, and very selectively. What if the authorities decided, for example, that to advocate against same-sex marriage was a use of words that inflicted injury? Actually, one of the owners in his column equated this opposition, when translated into public policy, with “intent to do harm” to those who wanted to partake in the act legally. Having the notion that criminality is attached to “bad” motives which have spring from “bad” ideas only makes it easier for government to constantly broaden its controls over those ideas it may consider unacceptable for whatever reason, and thereby to squelch ideas its elites define as offensive.
And it can do so quite selectively, as it consistently shows. Decades ago, certain racial slurs were common but today are considered hostile to the point they would be subject to the New Orleans disturbing of the peace definition. Yet (as explained by the words quoted here of an idiot savant) their usage is not only condoned by government, but celebrated by a portion of the mass public, when from entertainers of a certain skin color. So what guarantee is there in the future that government won’t support certain favored groups in society who seek to punish any non-member who elucidates ideas they deem offensive, buoyed by this notion legitimized by the hate crime concept that thoughts without any action attached to them still are harmful nonetheless?
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:50