Is Religious Anti-Gay Speech a Hate Crime?

At this writing; House Resolution 1913 had just passed Judiciary Committee review and will, ostensibly, appear on the House floor for debate at some point. The nature of the resolution leads me to believe that it would then be voted on as a bill that would somewhat expand our existing Hate Crimes laws. The terse description of this reads as follow:

To provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and for other purposes.

This comes to my attention because of the flurry of e-mails from conservative Christian organizations that are up in arms saying that it will stifle their free speech and keep them from promoting the biblical view on homosexuality. My initial reaction is that anything that makes the butt's of the religious right pucker must be a good thing, but I wanted to investigate further.

 In reading this bill, it expands our existing laws that recognize violence based on prejudice against gender, race, color, religion, national origin, or disability to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The operative word here is 'violence' and there is no mention of speech. The bill would (in my reading) merely apply different sentencing guidelines to violent acts that are already illegal.

 Contemplating the bill, several questions come to mind:

  1. Can hate crime laws actually reduce violent crimes on the part of xenophobes? My opinion is that the fear of those that are not like ourselves is a most primitive and instinctual reaction and probably served ancient man well (in a survival context). It is our higher intellect that allows us to recognize our innate xenophobia and overcome it. Will someone resist killing an immigrant because they will get 25 years in prison as opposed to 20 years? Will someone be uniquely shamed for killing another because they were motivated by bigotry instead of more pedestrian reasons? …I think not.
  2. Can organized inculcation/indoctrination of large groups in the persecution of some minority (i.e. left-handed individuals, Hispanics, homosexuals) rise to the level of a 'violent' crime even in the absence of physical violence?

The latter of these two points seems to be what is getting the religious right's pants in a bunch. It is being portrayed as making it illegal to speak against homosexuality in church. Despite my sooooo wishing we could make organized persecution of a minority a shameful practice (well…actually it already is), I don't believe that, constitutionally, there would be solid grounds to make it against the law. I believe it could easily be argued that the practice is immoral; we would be hard pressed to make it illegal. 

I would guess the best we could hope for is that organized persecution would be looked down on in that same way that adultery is looked down upon. That said; while I now think that even our existing hate-crimes laws are feel-good legislation, I will support H.R. 1913 just to scare the religious right despite thinking that it poses no threat to them.

UPDATE (28 Apr 09): This morning I got an e-mail from the American Family Association that said (among other things) 

"Congress is set to give legally protected status to 30 sexual orientations, including incest."

I also see that Liberty Counsel (whoever they are) is extoling how this bill will protect pedophiles.

(I purposely did not link to their sites to avoid inadvertently promoting them)

Are these people serious?!?!  They are either intellectually stunted or stunningly desperate. 

1 comment:

Tony said...

I think religious groups can make a correct argument that expanding hate-crime legislation to protect homosexuals punishes religious thought. After all, if you get 20 years in prison for killing a gay man, and 25 years if you kill a gay man in a hate crime, then you're really getting 5 extra years of punishment for your thoughts about homosexuals, and those thoughts might very well be religious.

Does that deter crime? Probably not, and I think you're right that hate crime laws are "feel-good" laws, but I'm OK with feel-good laws, provided they're not doing active harm, and provided they're making us feel good about things worth feeling good about. (Not hating gay people is worth feeling good about!)

That said, I've always been a little surprised that hate-crime laws pass Constitutional muster. I don't particularly care about the Constitution per se, but a lot of judges do and I'm surprised they haven't been more skeptical of laws that punish you for things you think.