The following is a letter to the editor I had published in CM-Life, Central Michigan University’s school rag. I figure posting it here would be appropriate given that the Michigan House has recently passed HB 6341 – a hate crimes bill.
Brilliant, the hate crime law brigade continues its asinine crusade to prosecute based on bias. The concept of prosecuting for bias crimes equate to nothing less than prosecution for thought crimes. Daniel Levy makes this clear when he described House Bill 6341 as an “enforcement measure” in the August 25th issue of CM-Life. There are a number of problems with House Bill 6341 as well as the the concept of bias or hate crimes in general – both in a practical and theoretical context.
One of the initial issues is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime based on whatever list of attributes proponents of anti-bias crime laws are tossing around at the time. People chuckle at Miss Cleo ads, so why would they actually expect the prosecutor to be able to read the mind of the defendant and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed a crime based on a list of attributes? Here’s a clue, they can’t. The only way that it would be possible is that if legislators eliminated that doubt by fiat (in the form of legislation).
An example of such an act is the language in House Bill 6341 which makes the mere act of hanging of a noose on someone’s property equivalent of physically damaging or altering that property. Hanging a noose on someone’s property because they don’t like the color of their skin is absolutely ridiculous and ignorant. However, there are only two things in play when someone just hangs a noose on another’s property – political speech (ignorant like I mentioned) and trespass. Only one of those should be a chargeable offense. Which one? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not political speech. Unfortunately Mr. Levy thinks otherwise. In his statement in the September 5th version of CM-Life’s Web Features, he stated that it is intent which matters, not actual damage to property, when someone hangs a noose. In this case, the it’s intent to send out a political message – something which is covered by the First Amendment. That’s why it’s absurd that Mr. Levy then goes on to claim that House Bill 6341 doesn’t infringe on free speech.
This leads into the next issue concerning hate crime legislation. Legislation such as House Bill 6341 looks to punish based not on effect, but intent. As stated earlier, the intent is to send a political message. This lends for constitutional challenges to such legislation. This claim isn’t made merely on theory, but actual case law. In 1992, the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down a bias crime ordnance that St. Paul, MN passed in the case of R. A. V. v. St. Paul on First Amendment grounds. Just like I mentioned prior, their opinion is that it is the effect which should have been punished, not the message.
One final point I would argue is that bias crime laws violate equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It should be pretty clear that a bias exists in the first place if someone were to commit a crime against another person. With that being the case, punishment for a crime based on one set of biases compared to others does not make for equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.