- Last week, the House of Representatives acted with disdain
for the Constitution and individual liberty by passing HR 1592, a bill
creating new federal programs to combat so-called "hate crimes."
The legislation defines a hate crime as an act of violence committed against
an individual because of the victim's race, religion, national origin,
gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Federal hate
crime laws violate the Tenth Amendment's limitations on federal power.
Hate crime laws may also violate the First Amendment guaranteed freedom
of speech and religion by criminalizing speech federal bureaucrats define
- There is no evidence that local governments are failing
to apprehend and prosecute criminals motivated by prejudice, in comparison
to the apprehension and conviction rates of other crimes. Therefore, new
hate crime laws will not significantly reduce crime. Instead of increasing
the effectiveness of law enforcement, hate crime laws undermine equal justice
under the law by requiring law enforcement and judicial system officers
to give priority to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Of course,
all decent people should condemn criminal acts motivated by prejudice.
But why should an assault victim be treated by the legal system as a second-class
citizen because his assailant was motivated by greed instead of hate?
- HR 1592, like all hate crime laws, imposes a longer sentence
on a criminal motivated by hate than on someone who commits the same crime
with a different motivation. Increasing sentences because of motivation
goes beyond criminalizing acts; it makes it a crime to think certain thoughts.
Criminalizing even the vilest hateful thoughts--as opposed to willful criminal
acts--is inconsistent with a free society.
- HR 1592 could lead to federal censorship of religious
or political speech on the grounds that the speech incites hate. Hate crime
laws have been used to silence free speech and even the free exercise of
religion. For example, a Pennsylvania hate crime law has been used to prosecute
peaceful religious demonstrators on the grounds that their public Bible
readings could incite violence. One of HR 1592's supporters admitted that
this legislation could allow the government to silence a preacher if one
of the preacher's parishioners commits a hate crime. More evidence that
hate crime laws lead to censorship came recently when one member of Congress
suggested that the Federal Communications Commission ban hate speech from
- Hate crime laws not only violate the First Amendment,
they also violate the Tenth Amendment. Under the United States Constitution,
there are only three federal crimes: piracy, treason, and counterfeiting.
All other criminal matters are left to the individual states. Any federal
legislation dealing with criminal matters not related to these three issues
usurps state authority over criminal law and takes a step toward turning
the states into mere administrative units of the federal government.
- Because federal hate crime laws criminalize thoughts,
they are incompatible with a free society. Fortunately, President Bush
has pledged to veto HR 1592. Of course, I would vote to uphold the president's