Reader R.B. has called our attention to an unfortunate development in Congress last week: On June 23 the Senate passed by a 65-33 vote a bill titled the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act that would hand out $10 million in federal aid to states, cities, counties, and Indian tribes for the enforcement of laws against “hate crimes.” The bill is the brainchild of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his co-senator, John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is one of the co-sponsors.
The bill (you can read its entire text here) defines as a “hate crime” any felony “that is motivated by prejudice based on the race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the hate crime laws of the State or Indian tribe.” The bill is a nicer-name version of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act that has been floundering about in Congress since 1999.

It’s a scary bill–and one that the House (which has yet to vote on it) ought to stop dead in its tracks and President Bush ought to veto. We at the IWF naturally oppose hate crimes. But we believe that every crime is a hate crime, and that people should not be afforded special protection or law-enforcement treatment as crime victims just because of their sex, skin color or other group characteristic. Such special treatment with respect to law enforcement could lead to disastrous instances of discrimination against those who don’t belong to the favored groups. Why should, say, a young black woman who is mugged be guaranteed an expensive full-bore hate-crime prosecution of the charges against her assailants, while an elderly white man who is mugged receives only cursory attention from the legal system?

Furthermore, the bill allows the states themselves to define what constitutes a hate crime. Who knows what that could mean? Perhaps a state will decide that vegetarians or college professors deserve special protections as crime victims.

Reader R.B. points us to this editorial by Carey Roberts for the website. Roberts points out that on June 10 actress Brigitte Bardot was convicted and fined $6,000 under a French hate-crimes law for statements in her latest book deemed derogatory to Muslims. The Canadian government published a report last year recommending that prosecutors consider bringing charges under Canada’s hate-crimes laws against those who engage in “masculinist discourse,” which is defined as revealing “an ideology that aims to challenge the gains made by women and discredit feminism.” Among the suggested targets for prosecution in the Candadian report: IWF board member Christina Hoff Summers! Christina is a distinguished academic, but her book Who Stole Feminism?: How Woman Have Betrayed Women, which attacks the rad-fem agenda, qualifies her as a criminal in the eyes of the Canadians.

The just-passed Senate bill would not, of course, spend our tax dollars to prosecute Brigitte Bardot or Christina Hoff Summers. The U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court doesn’t–yet–allow criminal convictions based on merely saying or writing something that offends some other people. We haven’t gone as far as Canada and Europe in restricting the right to free speech. But the the bill would allow some people to be prosecuted more vigorously than others just because of the identity-group of their victims. That is grossly unfair.