By Harmony Grant
11 Mar 09
A skinhead with fury-filled eyes and a swastika is the typical first image of a hate criminal. An evangelical with an anti-homosexual sign might come second. But it’s hardly just Klansmen who will be prosecuted or just Bible believers who should worry about hate laws’ threat to free speech or belief. “Anti-hate” laws threaten the liberty of a least suspecting group—secular liberals!
Today, two hate crime bills are before our government: the David Ray Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 256) and The David Ray Ritcheson Hate Crime Prevention Act (HR 262). The first bill expands the original 1968 hate law and also commands the Federal Sentencing Commission to study “adult recruitment of juveniles to commit hate crimes.” The Sentencing Commission will thus enhance punishment for people who incite hate crimes. This vague language could be interpreted by activist judges to punish adults whose “hateful speech” against immigrants, homosexuals, or other protected groups allegedly inspires hate crimes.
HR 262 also is a sinister blueprint for an American hate crimes bureaucracy. It establishes a federal database and clearinghouse on hate crimes, a national hotline for hate crime or “discrimination” complainers, and a federal hate crimes website. It demands special privileges—including tax-supported unemployment compensation, relocation and housing, and counseling—for hate crime victims. It sets aside money for “education” against hate in American schools from elementary to university, poisoning minds against politically incorrect opinions from the cradle and preparing America’s future leaders to accept speech laws against them. Cost to the taxpayer: 20 million dollars annually.
Where these hate laws are not an abusive expansion of federal power they are redundant of existing law’s protection of crime victims. They set the precedent for criminalizing certain beliefs (biases)—a precedent that will inevitably harden into a pure speech code, leaving our First Amendment broken in the basement of history.
Christians are rightly worried about our rights under hate laws to express religious beliefs that might be seen as “hateful.” But what about the free speech of non-Christian Americans? What about the free speech of liberals?
Many liberals wish to criticize religion, especially Christianity and Islam. This freedom is endangered by speech laws. In 2002, a French writer, known for despising the three monotheistic religions, was hauled before judges for calling Islam “the stupidest religion.” French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot has been convicted five times for hate speech, including a description of Muslims as “invaders.” Last year she was fined $23,000 for a letter to France’s interior minister demanding that animals be stunned before slaughter at a Muslim festival. Under hate speech laws, what might happen to the atheists who rake religion over the coals, or ex-Christians who write with biting disgust about the Bible? Browse any bookstore—especially in a liberal city like mine—and you can find plenty of vitriolic speech against believers.
Many liberals are also ardent critics of Israel and the Zionist movement. This, too, could land them in hot water for hate speech. In 2007, Richard Dawkins was accused of anti-Semitism for saying the American Jewish lobby is “monopolizing American foreign policy.” Students and teachers at colleges across the nation have gotten their hands dirty in the Israel-Palestine debate, which would be severely restricted by broader bans on “hate speech” against Jews. What if one of them was indicted for expressing their righteous anger—like the senior British diplomat who was arrested for what he yelled at the gym TV while watching coverage of the Israeli attacks on Gaza?
It wouldn’t be America as we know it. It would be America under hate laws.
In each of these countries—France, Canada, Britain, Australia, etc.—seemingly well-intentioned laws were passed to shield minorities from “discrimination,” “defamation,” or the trauma of bias-driven crimes or pure speech itself. Those laws empowered government to crack down on the free expression it decided was offensive, giving unjust power to whichever people happened to hold office or wear police uniforms. Hate laws also caused immeasurable self-censorship by artists, thinkers, writers, and average citizens who could not risk sinking their lives and bank accounts into legal defense against a charge of “hate speech.”
In the US, most people mistakenly take freedom of speech for granted, naively believing we are an eternal exception in the freedom-losing west. But a tidal wave of speech codes already swamps most American universities and workplaces, where everyone knows there are certain things you just can’t say. The concept of “discrimination” (against race, religion, sexuality, age, gender, the list goes on…) has vastly and dangerously limited freedoms in the western world.
An expanded federal hate law in the US will be the last crest of that suffocating wave. It is actually more dangerous if the real theft of freedom isn’t contained in the legislation itself—but meted out by precedent-setting judges and courts defining the intentionally broad and vague terms of law. As Robert L. Knight writes in a recent column about HR 256, “The proposed law, in effect, would make federal cases out of name-calling. Legitimate opinion and free speech are thus recast as 'hate speech' that can be suppressed via creeping judicial activism.”
No Laughing Matter
The western world provides many examples of hate laws’ threat to the free speech of all citizens, both conservative and liberal. Raucous comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson (of Mr. Bean fame) routinely critiques religion and wants his right to do so. In 2004, he described proposed British hate laws as “draconian” and dangerous. Politicians promised the laws wouldn’t damage freedom of speech, just as American advocates say today. But Atkinson knew better and launched a campaign against the law, joined by other members of Britain’s liberal artistic elite.
In a 2005 speech he said, “As hatred is defined as intense dislike, what is wrong with inciting intense dislike of a religion, if the activities or teachings of that religion are so outrageous, irrational or abusive of human rights that they deserve to be intensely disliked?”
“I think that the right to offend is far more important than a right not to be offended,” said Atkinson. His protest was joined by the director of the British National Theater, among others, who brought up the example of a 200-year-old play that excoriates Roman Catholicism. Indeed, much of modern and postmodern art and media offends religious believers. Could such art potentially mire the courts in hate crime charges? Critics of Islam—publishers of “blasphemous” cartoons—have certainly found that true in the last years.
Atkinson’s statements are uncannily similar to what’s happening in the US, only he spoke of religious groups, not homosexuals (prime advocates of US laws). "The excuse for this legislation is that certain faith communities have suffered harassment and a law is required to address it…But it is not the real reason behind it. The real reason, it seems to me, is that since the day of the publication in 1989 of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, a hard core of religious thinking in this country has sought a law to grant religious beliefs and practices immunity from criticism, unfavorable analysis or ridicule."
Britain’s law against inciting religious hatred was passed in 2006.
If it can happen in Britain, it can happen here. Hate laws enacted by liberals to protect minorities, or to protect libertine sexuality, could potentially be used by religious groups to silence liberal criticism.
For example, the organization American Atheists is planning to protest the UN Geneva Convention in April, which will again discuss bans on defamation of religion. The American Atheists national communications director wants unbelievers everywhere to proclaim with him, “I openly and freely state that religion is ridiculous, and all gods are fictional. I also state that Islam, specifically, is a barbaric religion, based on the teachings of a false prophet, that promotes ignorance, hate, and violence (including terrorism)…I do this in direct violation of the UN resolution, and I personally challenge President Obama to rebuke this resolution, or order my arrest.”
An atheist should be free to say this, as Christians, Muslims, and Jews should be free to express their own metaphysical convictions. It’s nice this particular atheist is defying the UN. But what about defying our own government and its proposed limits on freedom of speech? Why aren’t liberals doing that?
Maybe they think American hate laws (and federal amendments) simply punish violent acts or speech they themselves consider barbaric. They should think again. Any time, any place that big government is allowed to swell and to deprive any group of basic freedoms such as speech and thought—or to educate the young against their ideas, or set up a national hotline for complaints against them—everyone loses. The Soviet regime burned Bibles and killed believers. It also burned poetry and protest; it killed free-thinkers, intellectuals and artists. The nature of power is to grab more, relentlessly swallowing the rights of potentially rebellious individuals.
When you have a speech code, what happens, for instance, to the right to criticize government itself?
In Canada, a Marxist feminist professor faced a hate crimes investigation after saying Americans are “bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood.” I wonder how many American professors, writers, and comics could have gotten in trouble for similar words during the Bush administration if we’d had a more expansive federal hate law.
Secularists Speaking Truth about Hate Laws
It should be clearer now that Christians and far-right fanatics aren’t the only ones who should protest hate laws. But let’s conclude with more arguments from secularists themselves. Reason’s senior editor Jacob Sullum opposes the laws. He explains the rationale behind hate laws is that “crimes motivated by bigotry do more damage than otherwise identical crimes with different motivations…Yet random attacks arguably generate more fear, and hate crimes cause anxiety in the targeted group only when they're publicized as such …”
I contend that hate crimes are only publicized as hate crimes because of an aggressive campaign to criminalize certain beliefs. The crimes themselves are already illegal.
Last year, journalist John Cloud, who wrote about the Matthew Shepard case, said in Time magazine that while he found it difficult to oppose the hate law bills (then called the Matthew Shepard Act), he had to.
“Hate-crimes laws feel great to enact,” Cloud writes, “but they criminalize something vital in a democracy: the right to be wrong. Let's say you chop off my arm because I'm gay. I would hope you go to prison for a long time, but should your sentence be even longer just because I sleep with guys and you disapprove? Don't people have a First Amendment right to disapprove?
“When did the U.S. government get into the business of criminalizing people's thoughts?”
Harmony Grant is a writer for National Prayer Network. To greater understand the illogic behind hate laws, read her article “Top Eleven Reasons You Should Fight Hate Laws.” At www.truthtellers.org you can also find two 10-minute videos which powerfully explain these most recent hate crime bills.
An example of a 'hate speech' crime in Finland helped along by US 'authorities.' Maybe coming soon to a US neighborhood near you.
The case of Henrik Holappa - Finnish patriot in U.S. custody awaiting asylum hearing, facing "hate speech" charges in Finland