Why "Hate Crime" Laws Are a Bad Idea

On 21-October-2000, a friend forwarded an email message to me regarding the dragging death of James Byrd, and of George W. Bush's non-support of a hate crimes bill. This is my reply:
I don't like either Bush or Gore, and will not vote for either of them.

I don't know why Bush didn't support a hate crimes bill. I might or might not agree with his reason. But I have my own reasons for opposing such bills, which generally can be summarized as opposition to the government having "thought police".

The dragging death of Mr. Byrd was a horrific crime, and I'm entirely in favor of the courts handing out very stiff sentences to those convicted of such crimes. However, I believe that it is a horrific crime regardless of whether the motivation was hatred. Perhaps it is appropriate for the court to consider the motivation in determining an appropriate sentence. But it is *not* appropriate for lawmakers to pass laws that distinguish crimes based on specific categories of hatred.

For instance, suppose a hate crimes law bans torturing and murdering people due to race, gender, religion, or sexual preference. And suppose that your child, parent, spouse, or anyone close to you gets murdered not based on a hate category listed in the hate crimes law. Perhaps the murderer just didn't like the victim's clothing or taste in music. So the murderer can not be charged under the hate crimes law and receives a lesser sentence than if the murderer was motivated by race or sexual preference. Does that seem fair?

Or, worse yet, a hate crimes law could just broadly cover hate crimes without any explicit definition of what those are, and leave the determination to the courts and juries. This violates a key principle of Rule of Law, that a citizen should be able to know whether a proposed course of action violates the law. You might say "so what, we're talking about murderers", but vague laws are often used for purposes far different from the original intent.

As far as I know, every state or local jursidiction in the US is already covered by laws concerning assault, battery, homicide, manslaughter, etc. If those laws do not provide for suitable sentencing for those convicted, the laws should be changed in a general and broad manner, not by instituting thought control.


Tired of being screwed by the Democrats *and* the Republicans? Want lower taxes and sane public policy? Vote Libertarian. www.lp.org

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Last updated October 21, 2000

Copyright 2000 Eric Smith


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