Hate Crime Laws: Are They Constitutional? Essay

This essay has a total of 1615 words and 7 pages.

Hate Crime Laws: Are They Constitutional?

Are hate crime penalty enforcement laws constitutional?

"That's Gay." If you are around teenagers today, that is a phrase you will most likely
hear very often. It is not necessarily meant as a homophobic or hate-filled remark, and
most of the time it is referring to an object, an idea, or a conversation; things that
obviously have no sexual orientation. But now, according to a bill passed by the senate,
it could almost be considered a hate crime. Many people support the widening of hate crime
laws, assuming that with stricter penalties, the crimes will lessen. In June, 2004, Senate
passed a bill that received a record number of votes, passing 65-33, including 18
Republicans voting yes. The measure will add sexual orientation, gender and disability to
the list of motives that provide for enhanced federal prosecution of a violent crime
against a person (Lochhead). The current hate crimes law, which originated during the
civil rights movement of the 1960s when many Southern states failed to prosecute assaults
on African Americans, includes crimes motivated by hatred based on race, color, religion,
and national origin. Many see this as a step forward, but there are some who think it is
unconstitutional. Religious groups argue that "It advances the radical, well publicized
agenda of homosexuals to gain acceptance for, and legal recognition of, homosexuality as a
normal lifestyle" (Toalston). So who's right? Should there be a separate category for
crimes committed to minorities? Shouldn't all crimes be treated just as serious as
another? I believe that the categorizing of crimes into Hate Crimes is just further
segregating people because of their differences, and that paying more serious attention to
crimes committed on minorities is sending a bad message to those who are in the majority.

First off, many people perceive hate crime perpetrators as crazed neo-Nazis or
"skinheads". However, most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise law-abiding citizens
who see little wrong with their actions. Alcohol and drugs sometimes help fuel these
crimes, but the main determinant appears to be personal prejudice. New FBI data shows that
the number of hate crimes reported in 2003 increased slightly, from 7,462 in 2002 to 7,489
in 2003. The 7,489 hate crime incidents reported to the FBI in 2003 involved 8,715
separate offenses affecting 9,100 victims (Kelotra). By far the largest determinant of
hate crimes is racial bias, with 51.3 percent of all hate crimes falling under this
category, followed by Religion bias (17.9 percent), Sexual Orientation bias (16.5
percent), Ethnicity bias (13.7 percent) and Disability bias (0.4 percent) (Kelotra).

According to FBI Uniform Crime reports, there were 30,606,332 crimes reported in 2003. So
is it fair that 7,489 of them were treated with top-priority because of the person's race,
religion, or sexual orientation? The Southern Baptist Convention's ethic agency doesn't
think so, and they're doing their best to try to reverse the bill that widens hate crime
laws. "Existing laws in every state cover real crimes of violence, vandalism and property
destruction, which should be punished to the full extent of the law" they argue
(Toalston). Others argue that the bill is simply redundant. "What is really being
punished, as [critics] see it, is a criminal's thoughts, however objectionable they may
be. The actions - incitement, vandalism, assault, murder - are already against the law"

For every group against the defining of hate crimes, there are twice as many groups who
feel it is more than necessary. "Hate crimes are message crimes. They are different from
other crimes in that the offender is sending a message to members of a certain group that
they are unwelcome" (McDevitt). While the constitution promises us free speech, it doesn't
allow us to use that as a weapon to put certain groups in fear. As much as everybody has a
right to voice their opinion, everyone also has a right to live their life in peace
without discrimination.

Another critical issue in hate crime is that studies indicate that hate crimes appear to
have more serious psychological effects on the victims and the communities they represent
than other crimes. Research shows that victims of hate crimes many times link their
vulnerability to their personal, cultural, or spiritual identity. The result of this is
that victims of hate crimes often suffer greater and more permanent emotional trauma than
other crime victims. So while a victim of assault could potentially get over the act, a
person who was assaulted because of their race can never just "get over" their skin color
and the trauma it brought.

A very important effect this bill may have, some fear, is that it may prohibit some
preaching against homosexuality from a scriptural standpoint. "Religious liberty would be
threatened as gay and lesbian activists seek to use this legislation in an attempt to
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