Hate Crime Laws: A Need For Change
The phrase hate crime might be self-explanatory. These crimes are motivated by strong dislike towards certain individuals. Hate crimes stir up many issues regarding the law enforcements of these crimes. While much debate is about what constitutes as hate crimes, there has also been debates about whether there should be hate-crime laws and penalty enhancement for hate crime offenders. However, there is no doubt that hate crimes are still prevalent in today’s society. According to the FBI’s annual report on hate crime statistics for 2012, although the number of hate crimes has decreased from the previous year, the numbers are still relatively high. The report states that there were 7,164 hate crime victims reported as opposed to the 7,713 reported in 2011. It further investigates the motivations behind these crimes and it shows of the 5,790 single-bias incidents, approximately 48.3 percent were racially motivated. In addition, about 19.6 percent of these incidents were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, 19.0 percent were religion biased, 11.5 percent were ethnicity and or national origin biased, and 1.6 percent was disability biased (FBI). Although the number of hate crimes have decreased from 2011 to 2012, there is still a need to enforce greater hate-crime laws to ensure there continues to be a downwards trend in the number of hate crimes committed. However, many argue against enforcing greater hate-crime laws, stating these laws are ambiguous and interferes with one’s natural right of freedom of speech. But, the benefits of properly enforced hate-crime laws outweigh the arguments made against them. Hate-crime laws are essential in order to decrease the number of hate-motivated crimes but they must be enforced in an impartial manner to ensure fairness of those being accused and the victims.
One of the strongly held beliefs against hate-crime laws is that it interferes with the First Amendment. The First Amendment is people’s right to freedom of speech, allowing them to express their beliefs on issues. Those arguing against hate-crime laws are stating these laws are taking away their basic rights to express themselves for they will be charged if they condemn or speak out against a certain group of people. However, that is a misconception. Hate-crime laws are not ways to limit a person’s freedom of speech. Rather, it only punishes those that act upon their hate. Understanding people’s concerns about the issue of these laws and people’s constitutional rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled hate-crime laws will not punish people’ verbal dislike towards others. “The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the 1993 case, Wisconsin v. Mitchell, that well-drafted hate crime laws are constitutional and do not punish speech. Rather they enhance the penalties only for acts that are already considered crimes” (Levin and McDevitt). In this ruling, the Supreme Court clearly states hate-crime laws will only penalize actions, not speech. Furthermore, Senator Chuck Robb stated, “This legislation does not allow individuals to be prosecuted for their hateful thoughts, rather it allows them to be punished for their hateful acts. Willfully inflicting harm on another human being based on hate is not protected free speech” (qtd. Religious Tolerance). Senator Chuck Robb further stresses hateful actions will be the only reasons people are charged under hate-crime laws. The argument of hate-crime laws stripping people of their basic rights is invalid because this legislation emphasizes people will not be penalize for their thoughts or beliefs.
Another argument against hate-crime laws is that these laws are creating unequal protection for different groups of people. People argue that implementing hate-crime laws is saying one group of people deserves extra protection than others. Robert H. Knight, the director of cultural studies at the Family Research Council, an educational organization that promotes the traditional family, states “It sets up special classes of victims, who are afforded a higher level of government protection than others victimized by similar crimes violating the concept of equal protection.” As a promoter of traditional families, it is implied that Knight does not agree with homosexual relations. In saying the laws protect one group more than another, Knight infers groups such as homosexual are getting greater protection. However, this argument is flawed. All groups are protected under hate-crime laws. However, certain groups, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), do experience greater chances of attacks. “The SPLC’s [Southern Poverty Law Center] analysis of 14 years of hate crime data found that gays and lesbians, or those perceived to be gay, are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos” (SPLC). This finding illustrates that the LGBT group are greater targets for hate-based attacks. The law does not state it gives extra protection to people in the LGBT category, as implied by Knight, or just minority groups. It is because certain groups experience greater chances of attacks it seems that hate-crime laws are targeted to protect certain groups over others.
Some people try to explain why others oppose of hate-crime laws. Dr. Joe Wenke states, “Lately a lot of the opposition to hate crime laws is directed at the fact that these laws protect people from being victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The people who oppose these laws don’t want gay or transgender people to be protected as a minority.” He supports his assertion by giving an example of an article by Dr. Robert Gagnon, an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Basing his beliefs on the Bible, he opposes of homosexual acts (Wenke). In “25 Reasons to Oppose Hate Crime Legislation,” Dr. Gagnon claims that bad things will happen “in homosexuals and transgender people are protected by hate crime laws” (Wenke). Dr. Gagnon’s reasoning against hate-crime laws is subjective because he bases arguments on only certain groups when hate-crime laws do not apply exclusively to homosexuals and transgender people. His argument is a logical flaw, because hate-crime laws do not just apply to a particular group. In his reasoning against hate-crime laws, Dr. Gagnon only focuses on homosexuals and transgender people. His opinions show his dislike towards homosexuals and transgender people and apply it to his argument against hate-crime laws, making his argument a logical flaw.
There are many arguments against hate-crime laws. However, when put into perspective, many of these arguments are flawed. Hate-crimes are serious problems that need to be addressed. In order to promote greater tolerance towards all people, hate-crime laws are needed. However, these laws must be enforced in a manner that guarantees fairness. Because hate-crimes do not target just an individual but also communities the victim identifies with, this type of crime becomes a societal issue. If not addressed properly, the number of hate-motivated crimes will only continue to rise. These laws are not made to protect only certain groups; it is proposed to ensure people of all identities are accepted. By implementing hate-crime laws, policy makers and law enforcers are emphasizing intolerance is unacceptable if acted upon. In a society that promotes peace, the first step is to be tolerant of diversity. Hate-crime laws are to ensure people are treated equally.
“2012 Hate Crime Statistics: Incidents and Offense.” FBI. FBI, 05 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Knight, Robert H. “Hate Crime Laws Are Unnecessary.” Homosexuality. Ed. Helen Cothran. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Regarding the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999.” 1999. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 2 Dec. 2013
“Southern Poverty Law Center.” SPLC’s Intelligence Report: Gays Targeted for Hate Crimes Far More Than Any Other Minority in America. N.p., 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Robinson, B.A. “Analysis of Article by James Williamson,a Lawyer and Former State Senator from OK.” Conservative Reaction to U.S. Hate Crime Legislation. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 4 Sept. 2009. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Wenke, Dr. Joe. “Haters of Hate Crime Laws.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.