U.S. hate crime bills
Analysis of article by James Williamson,
a lawyer and former state senator from OK
Article in the Tulsa World:
The 2009-SEP-04 issue of Tulsa World carried an article titled: "No need to
expand hate crime legislation" by James A. Williamson. 1 He presents a conservative view
of the federal Hate Crimes legislation currently before congress.
This essay attempts to analyze his arguments from a liberal viewpoint in
order to give a balanced portrayal of both sides of the issues.
The word count in his article is 447. There is a general rule of thumb that
copyright laws allow quotations in critical reviews of up to 500 words.
Democrat- controlled Congress has moved to expand existing federal hate crimes
legislation to add sexual orientation as another specially protected class.
Although there are some Tulsans who agree this should be done, I would like to
submit a different perspective."
Response: His statement is
true as far as it goes. However it may easily be misunderstood by the casual
reader. The bill would expand existing federal hate crimes legislation to
include sexual orientation, as he says. However, Williamson has not mentioned that the law
would also include three additional grounds: gender, gender identity and
disability. That is a major oversight.
("gender identity" is related to the gender that a person perceives themselves to be.
The vast majority of adults are cisgendered: their perceived and genetic gender
match. However, transgender persons often describe themselves as having a
brain of one gender trapped in an opposite-gendered body.)
Paragraph 2 to 4:
"First, I must agree with the obvious
? hate exists. People of moral conviction, however, should oppose the hatred of
people for any reason. But hate-crimes legislation doesn't stop hatred. Instead,
it creates a special class of victims ? victims whose perpetrators receive more
severe punishment for the very same physical or verbal acts that would not be as
harshly punished if the crime were committed against someone who was not part of
the special class."
"Let me give you one of many possible examples: An elderly African-American
grandmother is severely beaten by a person of the same race who hates her
activism against the area drug dealers. No hate crime, no special (more severe)
"Another elderly African-American grandmother is severely beaten by a white
perpetrator who targets her because of her race. This perpetrator may have done
exactly the same physical damage to the victim but would face substantially
harsher punishment. No one has ever explained to me how these victims are
equally protected from these perpetrators as required by our U.S. Constitution."
Response: The former hypothetical crime was motivated by a desire to
retaliate against a person that the perpetrator
knew. The fact that the victim is black, elderly, and female is immaterial. The
perpetrator would have beaten a white young male activist in the same way if he
had been an anti-drug activist.
However, if the bill becomes law, it would treat the second incident more harshly because it is a very different
type of crime. It is in fact two criminal acts:
||A physical assault, motivated by
hatred by the perpetrator of all members of the victim's race. The victim was
probably a stranger and was simply the next black person that the perpetrator
A terrorist attack to strike fear into the entire black community.
Such random, racist, violent crimes have a profoundly destabilizing effect on
The purpose of the hate crimes bill would be to not only protect
individual persons of all races, nationalities, religions, genders, sexual
orientations, sexual identities, and degrees of disability, but also
communities made up of people who share the same attribute, -- race
in this case -- as well.
"Furthermore, many conservatives are
very concerned about the proposed expansion of hate crimes legislation to
include sexual orientation. When expanded, these laws have been used in other
nations to criminally prosecute individuals for speaking out against homosexual
The First Amendment acts as an absolute barrier
between hate crime legislation and hate speech legislation. The
former can be constitutional; the latter cannot be. This
bill specifically limits its application to crimes of violence.
However, because of the frequent accusations by
social and religious conservatives that the bill could somehow morph from
criminalizing violent, injurious physical assaults to hate include
hate speech, a well-known conservative, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS),
submitted an amendment to emphasize that the:
"... law will not be applied in a way that infringes upon freedom of speech
or that 'substantially burdens any exercise of religion, speech, expression,
[or] association, if such exercise of religion, speech, expression, or
association was not intended to plan or prepare for an act of physical
violence; or incite an imminent act of physical violence against another'."
The amendment was passed by the Senate and now
forms part of the bill.
Williamson's article also refers to the situation in "other nations."
Very few countries have the same tolerance for hate
speech as does the U.S. For example, Canada has a
hate propaganda section in its criminal code.
However it has an exemption for hate speech in a religious setting. It still
criminalizes the advocating of genocide against certain groups even if the
speech is in a religious setting.
There was an interesting case involving a
sermon by Pastor ?e
Green at his Pentecostal church in Borgholm, Sweden. He cited the
main "clobber" passages
in the Bible that have often been used to attack homosexual behavior. He
called homosexuality an "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of
society," and said that God believes that gays and lesbians deserve
execution, that no homosexual can attain
Heaven, and that
gays and lesbians are "gripped by evil spiritual forces." He was
convicted under Sweden's unusually strict hate speech laws, and but had the
conviction overturned on appeal.
Hate crimes legislation in the U.S. would in no way limit freedom of speech. In order for
hate crime legislation to be applied in a specific case, a violent criminal act must
first be committed. Preaching hatred against a particular group of people such
lesbians, etc, or stating that God hates a specific group of people have
always been protected forms of speech. Such speech is in no way a criminal act.
Freedom of speech is protected under the
First Amendment of the
Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA) has commented:
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."
Paragraph 6:"This proposed expansion could lead to pastors being prosecuted for biblically
explaining why he or she opposes homosexual behavior. It should be understood
that to many who want this law, the Bible contains 'hate speech' and they would
be quite satisfied with the prosecution of a pastor."
Response: It is conceivable that a pastor could be prosecuted under
this proposed law. She or he could give a hate-based sermon against same-sex
behavior, pick up a baseball bat, go into the congregation and beat a
parishioner that he thought was gay or lesbian over the head with it. But without the bat, the pastor could say
whatever he/she wished and be immune from prosecution under this law. Of course,
he might lose members because a growing percentage of Christians would not want
to be part of a homophobic church -- or racist or
sexist for that matter.
Paragraphs 7 to 9:
"Finally, some would argue that hate-crime legislation is necessary in the United
States because of what occurred in World War II Germany when hate was left
"To place the frequency of these crimes in our country in context, you need to
know the levels of reported hate crimes here. In 2007 (the last year published),
of 1.5 million violent crimes reported to the FBI by 2,025 law enforcement
agencies nationwide, there were 8,999 hate crimes reported (slightly over 0.5
percent) and, of those, 1,460 (less than 0.1 percent) related to sexual
"As can be seen, these statistics do not reflect the level of unchecked hate that
history recorded in Nazi Germany ? a hate that was actually sanctioned and
encouraged by its government."
Response: The key point of concern is not the number of reported
hate crimes, but the number of actual hate crimes, and the terror
that the latter injects into the victims' communities.
Various surveys have shown that on the order of 42% of gays and lesbians have
experienced a physical attack during their lifetime that were motivated by their sexual
orientation as perceived by the perpetrator. If we assume that 5% of the adult population of the U.S. is gay or
lesbian, then this amounts to 4.4 million hate crimes having been experienced by
this minority so far in their lives.
Obviously, hate crimes are seriously under-reported and the law is badly
"So, for all of the above reasons, most conservatives do not support hate-crimes
laws or the proposed expansion of them."
Actually, if there were any danger that this hate crimes bill could morph
into a hate speech bill, most liberals would oppose it also.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
James A. Williamson, "No need to expand hate crime legislation," Tulsa
World, 2009-SEP-04, at:
Chuck Robb, "Robb hails Senate vote on hate crime legislation,"
"Senate Passes Hate Crimes Amendment Lacking Free Speech and Association
Protections. ACLU Calls for Adoption of House Provision, Instead," ACLU,
Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
First posted: 2009-SEP-04
Latest update: 2009-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson