By Laurie Higgins, Director of IFI's DSA - Illinois Family Institute
At a Town Hall meeting on Saturday, April 25, Congressman Mark Kirk attempted to justify "hate crimes" legislation (H.R. 1913) by summoning up the specter of the genocide in Bosnia, and in so doing perpetuated the erroneous claim that homosexuality is analogous to race or ethnicity. In addition, he failed to address the ethical problem of requiring that certain groups be treated unequally before the law; he failed miserably to justify government intrusion into the thought lives of Americans; and he failed to address the likely possibility of hate crimes legislation being used to undermine speech and religious rights.
This proposed legislation, which would designate homosexuals and cross-dressers as protected minority groups, advances the frightening notion that the force of government should be used to coerce and control thoughts. The acts that would be covered by hate crimes legislation are already illegal, punishable, and punished. This legislation does not make illegal any acts that are currently legal. Rather, this legislation would enhance or intensify punishment based on the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or motives of the perpetrator. This act would require the government to do what no legitimate government has the right or moral authority to do: invade the thought lives of citizens.
It would also have the pernicious result of requiring that members of particular designated groups be treated unequally before the law. Homosexuals and cross-dressers, who are defined centrally by volitional behavior, would have a special status legally conferred on them.
Kirk laughably uses Bosnia as justification for the need for hate crimes legislation which would enable the Federal government to intervene when a "suburban police department" is "immediately overwhelmed" by "political, radical groups" who "stigmatize and attack a community to divide it" in order to "trigger . . . mini-civil wars." There are a number of problems with the argument which he attempts to conceal through the flames of overheated rhetoric.
First, hate crimes legislation is not needed to provide suburban police departments that become overwhelmed by "mini-civil wars" with the resources necessary to quell such armed and radical civil unrest. Help would come from neighboring communities, state resources, the National Guard, and even the Federal government. Second, is he actually suggesting that radical, political groups will trigger a civil war against homosexuals and cross-dressers?
Has anyone asked Kirk why homosexuality and cross-dressing should be included with conditions that are immutable and carry no behavioral implications like race and sex? Has anyone asked Kirk if he believes it's morally acceptable to state publicly that homosexual acts are disordered and destructive-which is a fundamental tenet of Orthodox Judaism; historical, orthodox Christianity; and Islam? Has anyone asked Kirk if he sees any potential dangers in the government evaluating the thoughts of even criminals? These questions are essential to this debate.
Kirk also employs the strained argument that hate crimes are "designed to rip a multi-culture community apart." All crimes rip communities apart. That is why societies pass laws against, for example, assault, rape, and murder. But, if a rapist hates women, is his crime more offensive than the crime of a rapist who wasn't motivated by hatred of women? Should the penalties be harsher for the hater of women than for the rapist who harbored other motivations?
When supporters of hate crimes legislation claim that hate crimes require harsher penalties because such crimes send a message of intimidation to a class of people, are they suggesting that the government should be concerned with whether the perpetrator intended to send a message to a segment of the population or just whether the criminal act had a certain effect on a population. If the government is supposed to be concerned with whether the perpetrator intended to send a message, will law enforcement officials now have to discern not just the hate motives but the message-sending intent of the perpetrator?
If, on the other hand, the government is supposed to be concerned not with whether the perpetrator intended to send a message of intimidation, but rather whether his criminal act had that effect, how will the government determine that effect? Are law enforcement officials going to survey the local sub-group of people to determine if they are intimidated? And should government even be in the business of divining motivations and feelings? We open a Pandora's Box of thorny problems once we grant to the government the right to penalize motives.
When Kirk refers to "a crime of a particular nature," he tries to gloss over or obfuscate the deeply troubling "thought" part of the hate crimes legislation. When he uses the word "crime" he is drawing particular attention to the legitimate part: a criminal action -- which, of course, is already illegal. When, however, he uses the evasive, obfuscatory phrase "of a particular nature," he's referring to the illegitimate part of the legislation: the thoughts or feelings of the perpetrator. Kirk cleverly avoids the troubling dimensions of this legislation through the manipulation of his rhetoric.
Moreover, Kirk completely ignores the fact that there are numerous incidences in this country and Canada in which people have been charged and convicted, either by courts, "human rights commissions," or "human rights tribunals" of violating hate crimes policies or laws for merely expressing publicly the conviction that homosexual acts are profoundly immoral. Everyone who is familiar with this legislation knows that the groups most ardently working for its passage are organizations dedicated to undermining conservative beliefs on the nature and morality of homosexuality. This is a cause near and dear to Mark Kirk's heart as evidenced by his 75 percent approval rating by the "largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization," the Human Rights Campaign.
All of civilized society deplores both violence and hatred. All of civilized society deplores criminal acts generated by prejudice. But all of civilized society should view as inviolable the thoughts -- even the reprehensible, indefensible, hate-filled thoughts -- of individuals. No matter how offensive we as a society deem the thoughts, beliefs, or feelings of particular individuals, their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings should be off-limits to the government. Government has the right to legislate actions and actions only. If this legislation is passed, we will cede to a rapacious government, with a seemingly insatiable appetite for control over the lives of Americans, a dimension of human experience that only the most repressive regimes seek: liberty of individual conscience. What areas remain untouched by governmental regulation once we relinquish our thoughts?
As people analyze this dangerous legislation, they need to bear in mind that the conservative beliefs that homosexual acts are profoundly disordered and destructive of the common good are viewed by virtually all homosexual activist organizations as hateful.