Hate Crime Legislation Federal and State

The federal government and many states have hate crime legislation on the books, which ramps up criminal penalties in crimes of violence when hatred of a protected group is part of the perpetrator's motive. While hate crime legislation is arguably well meaning, it has the effect of criminalizing thought, because the person is punished differently depending on whether his intended violence results from prejudice against a certain group. The laws are also suspect because they make arbitrary distinctions that lead to inequitable results. Why should a person who assaults a homosexual, for example, be subject to greater punishment than one who attacks a defenseless grandmother? Are grandmothers not entitled to equal protection of the laws?

Federal hate crimes legislation has been on the books since 1968, covering attacks based on race, religion, or national origin. Homosexual activists have been frantically lobbying the federal government to add homosexuals to the list of victims protected by the law. In 2003, Democratic Senator Tom Daschle introduced the Equal Dignity for Americans Act of 2003 (S 16) in the Senate, which would add sexual orientation, disability, and gender as protected categories under the hate crimes law. The bill would also impose "sexual orientation" provisions on workplace discrimination law, to the effect that federal employers with fifteen or more employees could not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The state of Pennsylvania added a new twist to the hate-crime concept when Governor Mark Schweiker, on December 3, 2002, signed into law a bill that provided homosexuals legal protection from verbal harassment as well as hate crimes. Christian leaders expressed concern that the bill could be interpreted and enforced so broadly as to suppress the speech of pastors and preachers who may quote biblical passages condemning homosexuality. Some may think such a scenario is far-fetched, but is it? The problem is that one of the underlying crimes in the statute that would trigger more severe criminal penalties is "harassment by communication." Traditionally, this "crime" has dealt with crank phone calls or threatening mail, but Christian opponents of the measure fear that this "crime" could be stretched to include the mere expression of opinions disapproving of homosexuality. While this may be a long shot, it remains a possibility, as even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette acknowledged in an editorial on the subject.

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