Legislation to expand federal hate crime laws is proceeding at a clip, and controversy over the matter rages. The original law, passed in 1968, gives federal authorities jurisdiction to prosecute violent crimes committed against people on the grounds of race, color, religion or nationality while they are performing federally protected activities, like voting or attending school — the new legislation would extend this jurisdiction to all violent crimes committed on such grounds, all will include people who are homosexual, female, disabled, transsexual or transgendered.
Conservatives – and particularly conservative Christians – are understandably concerned over this legislation. Many see it as a deliberate and unambiguous discrimination against their traditional beliefs and institutions, which hold such highly valuable principles as Family Integrity and Moral Rectitude in high regard.
The new bill is intended “to muzzle people of faith who dare express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality,” according to James Dobson, the founder of the Christian community organization Focus on the Family. And Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill will punish people for having bad thoughts. “We’re going to put into place a federal law that says that not only will we punish you for the crime that you actually commit …,” he said. “But we’re also going to charge you with a crime if we think that you were thinking bad things about this person before you committed the crime.”
If this were true, if speech- and mind-control are at the root of this legislation, then this would be a grave problem indeed. An American citizen must never be prosecuted for believing that homosexuality is morally wrong and voicing this opinion openly — any more than for believing that Christians are insane and voicing this in reply.
But this bill really appears to be specifically targeted at violent expression of moral beliefs — and, more specifically, at covering the holes that might occur in local prosecution against certain kinds of violence. When moral disapproval (for essentially well-meaning reasons) becomes violent, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to serve justice against the attackers and in favor of the victims. But as long as the matter is one of local concern, justice may be denied to a victim if the police, jury and judge of an area (e.g., rural Oklahoma) sympathize with the attacker’s moral position. This shouldn’t occur… but it can, it has.
American citizens are endowed with the freedom to express their fervent beliefs openly, and with that freedom comes a responsibility not to resort to violence or threats of violence to support personal beliefs. This new hate crime legislation appears not to be an attempt to change people’s moral proclivities, but rather to ensure that the letter of the law is upheld — if not by local authorities, then by the feds.