We have, on this site, railed against "hate crime" laws because of the ambiguous, subjective nature of punishing people for the thoughts in their heads. And we believe such laws are downright unconstitutional due to their protection of members only of certain groups. (See "Increasing 'Hate Crime' Punishment Violates American Principles," "Law as thought control," and "Five more years for your thoughts.") Now, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation
tells of further ramifications of these laws.
Several years ago, when Pennsylvania was amending its "hate crimes" law, explains Weyrich, opponents of the law protested the inclusion of "sexual orientation" as one of the protected categories. Religious Christians, especially, feared that public opposition to homosexual activists might be forbidden or even legally punished. At the time, the proponents of the law dismissed these fears, assuring the opposition that First Amendment rights would not be curtailed. The amendment, writes Weyrich, was described as being "about the throwing of sticks and stones, not name-calling."
But at last year's "Outfest," a homosexual street event in Philadelphia, protesting Christians got a taste of the law. When attempting to distribute literature and recite Bible verses, they were physically jostled by members of a militant homosexual group, who were determined to interfere with or even stop the Christians' activities. Weyrich writes:
Eleven Christians ended up in jail. Five Christians faced charges. Four adult Christians were ordered by Judge William Austin Meehan to stand trial on charges of criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways. The Christians who quoted Scripture (which led to their being charged) confronted the possibility of total prison sentences as long as 47 years. . . .
Fortunately, in mid-February, Judge Paula Dembe ruled that there was no basis for the charges. She said, "We are one of the very few countries that protects unpopular speech … We cannot stifle speech because we don’t want to hear it, or we don’t want to hear it now." That is not really the end of the affair for as long as the hate crimes provision is on the books in Pennsylvania the fact is that Christian activists remain at risk for simply speaking what they believe. . . .
The Philadelphia case should only be more troubling when one realizes that the USA-PATRIOT Act has changed the definition of domestic terrorism from those acts that are true acts of violence to any violation of federal or state criminal law -- including misdemeanors -- that are deemed dangerous to human life and could be used to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population."
As we get closer to living in a society where "terrorism" is whatever the state claims it to be, Weyrich is wise to look at some recent precedents set in England, where Parliament is considering making even more stringent its current laws against "hate speech." He observes that the same assurances that such laws will not debilitate free speech rights are being given, as the House of Lords prepares to pass new legislation.
Weyrich could also look northward to Canada, where conformity to political correctness is expected in almost every sphere of life. Website owners have been prosecuted for publishing negative commentary about homosexuals and pedophiles, with a court ruling that such remarks were "likely" to expose members of these groups to "hatred or contempt." A Tribunal supported the ruling and added that it is not necessary to prove, in fact, that anyone is actually victimized by negative statements, if it is decided that one has created a "climate of homophobia."
"Hate crime" laws are now rife throughout Europe. For a sermon preached in 2003, in Sweden, Pastor Ake Green was arrested and found guilty of "hate speech against homosexuals." Weyrich is not off-base in seeing this type of censorship as the goal of many American homosexual lobbyists and their supporters. He sums up the reasons why "hate crime" laws are unnecessary with this rational objection: "Every American state and the District of Columbia have laws on the books to bring perpetrators of violence against any law-abiding citizen. The idea of 'hate' crimes represents a significant departure from the Anglo-American conception of justice."