This is being carried over from a discussion that began in the Atheist Nexus chat room.

So Obama signed a defense bill yesterday that included hate crime legislation regarding sexual orientation.

I'm generally opposed to hate crime legislation, but I'm open to having my mind changed.

I have several objections:

1. Nothing that is a federal hate crime isn't already a state violent crime. It is the creation of a special category of crime that seems unnecessary. I'm open to having my mind changed on this point, possibly on the grounds of societal good, but such grounds would actually have to be demonstrated, not just asserted.

2. One of the common justifications I've heard for legislation is that hate crimes dehumanize the victim and instill fear in the community. Don't all violent crimes dehumanize the victim and instill fear in the community? Why is this a special case?

3. Some of the same problems I have with labeling things as hate speech I have with hate crimes. I don't think we should outlaw discriminatory speech. If we did, you'd be opening up a can of worms. What speech is hate speech becomes up to the popular whim of the society. This is where you start getting things like blasphemy laws.

On the contrary, I can appreciate that we do take motive into account in the legal system. Motive is the difference between murder and self-defense. I recognize that as a weakness in my objection, but I'm not sure how to word it in properly.

I'll end my initial post with an analogy that I think expresses some of my concerns:

Scenario A: I beat up Ray Comfort and take his cash-filled wallet while screaming at him that he's an "idiotic fundie douche" and that anyone who gives him money is a moron.

Scenario B: I beat up a defenseless old lady and take her pension check out of her purse because she's an easy mark.

I understand that both scenarios are immoral and illegal. It is separate from the point that I'm trying to make with this analogy.

Questions:

1. Which of these scenarios (if any) qualify under the laws as hate crimes?
2. Ethically, which is worse under your own personal worldview? Are they equivalent?
3. Which should carry the harshest criminal sentence? Should they be equivalent?

Tags: crime, discrimination, hate

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1. Which of these scenarios (if any) qualify under the laws as hate crimes?

Well, that would depend on how the law is worded, and what it covers. But under my general understanding of hate crimes, neither would qualify as such.

2. Ethically, which is worse under your own personal worldview? Are they equivalent?

Ethically, I think they are similar. I hesitate to use 'equivalent'. My first inclination is to say that Scenario B is worse, but I'm not sure if that's an ethical concern or not. I tend towards the latter. My sympathy is certainly greater for the defenseless old lady - she is defenseless, after all - and my outrage greater towards such an assailant. But I can't justify such a response based on ethics.

3. Which should carry the harshest criminal sentence? Should they be equivalent?

The harsher sentence for Scenario B. The old lady's defenselessness is adds to the seriousness of the assault. Presumably Ray had the ability to fight back in defense of himself.

There is also the question of how much harsher is harsher? Being sentenced to six years inprisonment is harsher than being sentenced to five years inprisonment. Is that harsh enough? What about 25 years versus five years? Though one is certainly harsher than the other, the former seems excessively harsh in comparison to the latter.

One of the common justifications I've heard for legislation is that hate crimes dehumanize the victim and instill fear in the community. Don't all violent crimes dehumanize the victim and instill fear in the community? Why is this a special case?

It's not about instilling fear in the community, but a community. It's the general versus the specific. If I here of a murder that occured in my suburb, that may well be a cause for concern, but it's a generalised concern. That there was a murder may have me thinking that I could be murdered, but living in a rather safe neighbourhood it's also rather unlikely. However, if I were gay, and the person murdered was attacked and killed specifically because he was gay, then the risk to me of being a target in the future is significantly higher. The point of the murder (in this example) was not only to kill that individual, but to also terrorise me and other homosexual persons.

From my understanding, hate crimes legislation is to combat what is, effectively, lynching.
Stephen, I chose these two scenarios specifically because of the groups they fall into. In the United States, a federal hate crime is a crime based on enmity toward a specific group of people protected under the law: race, ethnicity, religion, nation of origin, and now gender identity.

I believe Scenario A would qualify under both criteria: hate expressed through the statements during the action and the action being expressly against a member of one of the protected groups.

On the other hand, Scenario B does not seem to qualify under either criteria. No expression of hate (other than violence, of course) is expressed against the elderly woman. It appears on face value that the woman is mugged because she's an easy mark. Let's assume for this scenario that such is the case. That doesn't seem to meet the enmity criteria for the law. Additionally, age isn't one of the protected classes. So, even if the mugger had attacked her because he hated old people, it wouldn't seem to fall under the hate crime laws.

Finally, I agree that the purpose of the legislation is to help prevent crimes that increase fear in certain segments of the community. That is a compelling purpose, and may justify this legislation on those grounds alone, even if it does something like create what might be perceived as unequal punishment for equal crimes, or even worse, greater punishment for what might be perceived by the majority as a lesser crime. I would be interested in seeing any evidence of the efficacy of this legislation, though. The government is required to keep statistics on hate crimes. For example, is there any evidence that states that have specific hate crime laws have been more effective at preventing those particular hate crimes than other states without similar laws?
I don't believe it is a straw man in the United States. I'm not intentionally misrepresenting the arguments of those in favor of hate crime legislation. Please correct me if I'm being misleading.

You state that we must take context into consideration, which I agree with. Unfortunately, under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, once a crime has been deemed a hate crime by the courts, established mandatory increased penalties take effect. If the situation falls within the guidelines of hate crime statutes, and the prosecution pursues it (which they should, that's their job), then the judge is required to increase penalties.
Hate crime legislation is obviously steeped in very murky water! Motivation is crucial as the determining factor, you would think. Not here, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_synagogue_shooting. Lack of motive has led investigators to draw a premature conclusion. Then, on top of that they bring up this 10 year old case of a white supremacist! There suspect obviously has no ties to this guy so why did the media feel the need to fuel a fire in the jewish community?

You raise three good questions in your post. Was Ray attacked because he is a fundie? Or because his wallet was fat? Is the line so thin that a derrogatory statement uttered during the commision of the robbery now escalates it to a hate crime? That would be insane! Was the old lady attacked because he hates old people, or because the he saw her leave the bank and it was an easy mark? We all know that serial killers fixate on a specific type of victim. Is this fixation defined as hate, or love?

Whatever the case may be, the law does not impose a lesser degree of severity to a crime against a person who could otherwise defend themselves. The only legal difference between these two scenarios would be if the old lady was over 65. That is an enhanced charge of battery on the elderly. I suppose that at sentencing human emotion would cloud the judges decision making processes, not that it shouldn't, and the man who assaulted the woman would get more time. The difference in the sentence would be due to the judges compassion for the victim, not because it was a hate crime.

Here is a scenario to ponder.

An atheist nexus member is at a bar one friday night and gets in a fight in the parking lot. The atheist puts a severe whipping on the other guy, who happens to be the son of a catholic priest! The case goes to court and the prosecution is a retired clergyman himself! They discover the atheist is an outspoken member of A/N and is very intolerant of religion. There is no indication that this fight was religiously motivated but the state charges the atheist with a hate crime. Oh, lets not forget that the media spun the shit out of the case as well!
Psychopaths are scary for a good reason: they're unnatural and unpredictable. On the other hand, genuine lack of empathy is often the result of a psychiatric condition, and I doubt it can spread as fast and easily as 'hate' (supported by irrational beliefs). It takes quite a bit of indoctrination and commitment (like constant psychological and physical abuse) to turn a normal human into an emotionless murderer. I think hate and prejudice, which are born out of 'soft' indoctrination, are more pervasive and widespread.
That's a bit of an odd pair to be working with.

It would make more sense if you were comparing robbing an old woman because it is easy to rob old people, or robbing an old woman because you want to strike fear in other old people.

In any case, I'm generally against hate crime laws.

If a criminal commits a crime with the intent to terrorize other people of a similar demographic to the victim then there are domestic terrorism laws. Laws on the federal level that would send those bastards to federal prison. People who commit crimes with the intent to terrorize other people should be treated the way they behave -- like terrorists -- and sent to Guantanamo Bay or some place where some cunt will ram a broom up their asshole or something.
1. Much as I'd like to see Ray with a black eye, both crimes are theft and should carry equal punishment.

2. In my personal world view beating up an old lady is way worse than beating up Ray Comfort. In my ethical world view both crimes are equal.

3. Equal.
This is different from the hate crime legislation we have in the United States (fortunately). Here, a hate crime is in connection with an act of violence. There are NO laws against hate speech in the United States. This is a good thing. If we had hate speech laws, they'd quickly become blasphemy laws.
I find it impossible to believe that Hate Crime Laws do what they are supposed to do, discourage bias-based violence. All such a law can really do is affect the number of people who lie about the true intent of a violent crime (either a criminal trying to avoid harsh punishment or a prosecutor looking for a bigger sentence). I feel that laws like this should be avoided as they just take up time and allow for the further corruption of an already severely corrupt legal system.
I'm sure we do, but I couldn't tell you how it actually works by the letter. What we're taught is that there's no law against saying anything unless under oath. Your way sounds great, but good luck getting conservative America to go along with anything origionally Canadian- no matter how much sense it makes.
beating the old lady is far worse beating ray comfort might be wrong but it would be oh so funny . you could give him his banana lol.
I first need to mention that I live in Eastern Europe, therefore I am not really familiar with the political arena in the US. However, I find homophobic marches repugnant (particularly those staged by the WBC). I expect these to end; or am I being too optimistic?
In other words, my question is: how far will it go? (I browsed the text but I am neither a lawyer, nor an American). The haters will state they have the right to affirm their christian identity, guaranteed by the Constitution. I suppose the blatant acts of the Westboro guys will end, but there are subtler ways of harassing people like wearing offensive T-shirts ("freedom of thinking"), etc., etc...

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