Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hate Crime and Punishment.

New “hate crimes” legislation is being introduced in the 110th U.S. Congress entitled the “David Ray Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.” (H.R. 254). This legislation would expand present hate crimes law to include ‘sexual orientation’ in addition to race, color, national origin, religion, gender or disability.

Hate crimes legislation as proposed would enhance the penalty for committing a “hate crime” against another person.

In addition to any penalty for committing a crime against another person, any defendant who commits bodily injury to another person with the use of “fire, a firearm, or an explosive device” because of the “actual or perceived” sexual orientation of the victim, will receive an enhanced punishment of not more than 10 years in prison or fine, or if the ‘hate’ crime victim dies, or if done with certain violence towards another, it could result in imprisonment for a term of life.

The law presently protects against other types of “hate” crimes such as race, color, national origin, religion, gender, or disability.

At first glance, all of this looks rather good, doesn’t it? You bet—at first glance. If a criminal commits a crime, he or she should pay the price. Right?

That would seem true. I ask you to think. Think carefully.

Traditionally, American criminal thought was based upon objective moral transgressions with punishments that should fit the gravity of the offense.

Reform, incarceration, restitution, deterrence, protection, and retribution are classic western and American goals of criminal law.

In accord with our Constitution, a criminal who committed a crime was seen in violation of fundamental natural rights of life, liberty, and property. This is a fundamental purpose of government, especially limited government even by Catholic writers such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Robert Bellarmine.

This foundation of American law was eroding starting in the sixties, when the sexual revolution also questioned whether crime really was a moral transgression—after all people were the victim of their social and economic conditions.

Instead at looking at conscience or moral culpability of individual persons, these commentators began to look at sentimental or environmental conditions that would “cause” and lead persons to commit crimes.

Crime was excused. Fault set aside. Criminals were criminals because of poverty, disenfranchise, racial prejudice, or the like.

The mea culpa became the mei excuso. Somebody forgot about the victim as well as society.

As time marched on, these sentiments and environmental conditioning led to political correctness, whereby current political fad and issues, as well as tolerance, guided society and now, the criminal law. Tolerance has become the sole rule of life in current culture; usually tolerance of what is morally wrong.

“Hate crime” legislation is most problematic.

Rather than punish crime due to the evil of the crime, we look to the most current political sentiment. Presently, the proposal in Congress regards homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression and orientation.

The underlying problem with all this is, isn’t all crime based in hate? Isn’t all crime sinful? Isn’t all crime hateful? From a Christian worldview, you bet it is. This is true because all crime is based on man’s weakened will and dimmed intellect due to original sin. There is evil in the world. One of its manifestations is crime.

Don’t confuse this with victim’s rights laws. These laws consider the victim and society, his or her injury, restitution for the injury, and the seriousness of the crime at the time of sentencing by the court.

The proposed “hate crime” legislation is a response to the current passion. In the past few years, it has been homosexuality.

This all has a serious impact upon our legal system and the common good.

Here’s how.

1. The law enhances the punishment due to the status of a victim. The problem is that all crime, all kidnapping, all murders, all robberies, etc., are the result of hate. The status of the victim should not matter. The injury should matter.

2. The objective standard of committing a moral transgression, of committing a crime, is removed. Instead of measuring the intent of the defendant, the courts will measure the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes that are the sentiment of the day.

3. Expands federal crime statutes. This legislation expands federal laws against certain crimes that were once all subject only to state jurisdiction. It invades the concept of the balance of powers and separation of powers among the states and the federal governments, and interferes directly with state administration of justice.

4. It increases the need for more courts; more prisons, more judges and clerks, and decreases the economic administration of justice in this country.

5. Hate crime legislation is unnecessary. Crime is crime and should be punished equally before the law.

Finally, this is dangerous to our Republic. It is also a result of political rather than religious thought.

Most of criminal and tort law that arose out of Western thinking and was a result of biblical or religious philosophy or practice. The biblical view is that life is precious and it should be honored.

This is true especially of innocent life. The biblical view also held that one should not steal from another, and that one should be protected against personal injury, and if so, then restitution was due.

The courts should be free from political correctness and subjective thinking, a plague that haunts the judicial halls of tyrannical nations.

Lastly, the next step downward to subjectivity is “hate speech.” Hate speech is the type of speech that people engage when talking about other people. Biblically and legally, we have historically called that defamation, gossip, slander, rash judgment, detraction, or the like. It is a sin. Therefore, this type of speech is hateful. It can also be actionable in a civil court of law.

However, when the legislature prohibits hate speech particularly regarding a sinful behavior, it states that you cannot say anything about a particular group of people or activity without disobeying the criminal law.

Thank God, we have the First Amendment in the U.S.A. Not so in Canada and in Europe.

In British Columbia, a Catholic city councilor has been ordered to pay a homosexual couple $1,000 for publicly saying that their lifestyle is "not normal and not natural."

The man in question, Joe DeCicco was simply restating the Church’s position on homosexuality. Is homosexuality unnatural? Yes. That is true. Is it disordered? Yes, just observe.

He was prosecuted for stating his personal beliefs under Canada’s hate crimes law. Unfortunately, people people tolerate this type of oppression in a free society.

The irony of it all is that those who seek social approval of this behavior would seek such sanction from the state to quash any of those that would disagree. All of this would be done in the name of “hate speech.” This is not hate speech. It is debate.

Now, let me be clear, if the Congress passes H.R. 254, that is not a hate speech bill. Hate speech is not “hate crimes” legislation. “Hate speech” is the next step downward as has happened in other countries. It could happen here.

It is not “hate speech” to point out the ills of society and wrong behavior. This is true especially with regard to homosexuality, alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, or the like.

Homosexuality will never be regulated or stuffed away, prohibited, or the like. It cannot be done so. Like many problems, it is socially tolerated to some extent. As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out; that not all vices can be or should be legislated against.

In sum, we cannot hate when we admonish others against sin. That is not possible, for it is one of several of the works of Mercy as taught by the Church. What are they? Here they are: 1. Convert the sinner, 2. Instruct the ignorant, 3. Counsel the doubtful, 4. Comfort the sorrowful, 5. Bear wrongs patiently, 6. Forgive injuries, and 7. Pray for the living and the dead.

And, as Christ admonishes us, we should love all sinners. It is sin that is the problem at its false attraction. It is not the sinner. We should be charitable in our message about any sin, because far too often people associate themselves too quickly with their toys, their behavior, or to their peculiar sins, rather than to God the Father. That is sad. In the end though, we are all children of Him who loves us. That is our common inheritance. That is why Love will prevail. It did so on the Cross. We need to allow it to conquer our hearts.