April 09, 2007


I was listening to a news report on the Bott Radio Network on the way back from lunch, and I was alerted to a legislative controversy that I didn't even know existed. Frankly, I was rather shocked to hear, first that the issue in question is not a foregone conclusion that was dealt with years ago, and second that it is a source of disagreement at all.

The issue is whether to make perceived sexual orientation (specifically homosexuality) part of the already existing federal hate crimes law. What that basically means is that if someone were to, say, kill you because you're gay or because they think you're gay, it would be considered a hate crime. Cuz, see, it's a crime and the motive was hatred.

The particular report I listened to was not very informative, and I was only half paying attention when I suddenly heard the commentary. Of course, this proposal was laid at the doorstep of the gay agenda, that great blight and scourge on American society. The suggestion was made that, not only had reports of hate crimes against gays been inflated and blown out of proportion, but that perhaps a substantial number of the reported crimes had even been faked in order to garner support for the amendment.

I did a little poking around to see what it was all about, and discovered that, indeed, this bit of legislation has not been well-received in all quarters. 'Well, that's odd,' I thought. 'I wonder who would be opposed to having less hatred in the world? . . . Oh, Christians. Wait . . . what?!' It seems that Christian organizations everywhere are loudly decrying the passage of such legislation as persecution of Christians.

When a significant minority group which often falls victim to prejudice, even violent prejudice, has its chance for a little extra protection blocked by a religion that has an obvious bone to pick on the grounds that the protection offered would squelch said religion's right to defame said minority, I think even a half-wit can identify precisely who is experiencing persecution. The assertion is that this amendment is directed specifically against the Christian faith. If said issue is that big of a deal to said faith, then I would counter-assert that said faith needs to get a life.

Is it just me, or do Christians claim the most "persecution" from the groups we are most willing to persecute, discriminate against, villify, and condemn in our turn? When even we cannot be charitable to those who hate or disagree with us, I shudder to think that we may be forced to rely on the charity of the unbeliever. Our voices grow ever more shrill and demanding in their insistence that Americans be governed by our principles and our principles alone, all while framing events as an apocalyptic struggle for an entire way of life.

We blindly place our faith in ultimate victory on shakey ground like the general rightness of our cause and the supposed fundamentalist Christian origins of our system of government. Meanwhile, we burn the bridges labeled "reason" and "tolerance" and "love" that connect us to the very people we should be reaching out to. Should our faith in the system ever prove unjustified (as it seems likely to), our precious rights and values will be left completely at the mercy of those we have made our mortal enemies. Sure that's bad, but my point is that we ourselves are more than a little responsible for drawing the battle lines so recklessly and raising the stakes so impossibly high in a conflict we might not win.

Anyway, in specific terms, the chief objection is that this legislation would supposedly make it possible for anyone in America who publicly calls homosexuality a sin to be charged with a hate crime. Scary-sounding terms like "thought crime" and "police state" are being thrown around. Well, first, let's get one thing straight. These Christians aren't against a police state because they value personal freedom. They're against a police state because they don't get to be the police. They aren't fooling anyone but themselves when they say otherwise.

Aside from seeming to obscuring the issue and making us all look like Nazis, I don't know whether these claims have any potential credibility. I really don't. But here's what I do know: According to this publication on hate crimes from the Department of Justice, in order for something to be classified as a hate crime, it first has to be an actual crime i.e. "murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, arson, and destruction, damage or vandalism of property." There have been federal hate crime laws on the books for nearly 40 years. If "hate speech" were covered under these laws, wouldn't we have seen some sort of crackdown on groups like the KKK before now?

There's certainly some interesting room for discussion here, were anyone willing to breathe deeply and calm down. What is the proper balance between freedom of expression and wanton intolerance? Should hatred be illegal in its own right? I haven't really fleshed out my own ideas about this yet, but I don't see the problem here.

Meanwhile, is there any particular reason to believe that general sermonizing would be placed on the same legal footing as KKK protest marches or cross-burnings? Assuming, even for a moment, that that would be the case and that such activities would be considered hate crimes (and neither assumption seems plausible), I'm still having a hard time casting the bulk of my sympathy in the direction of the "God Hates Fags" crew or their less inflammatory bretheren.

Seriously, is our right to proclaim the sinfulness of homosexuality from the rooftops really more important than their right not to be bullied, beaten, and killed? We aren't Old Testament prophets, dispatched to lecture everyone on how naughty they are. We're supposed to be about unconditional love, and that's not what this looks like to me.

Posted by Jared at April 9, 2007 02:26 PM | TrackBack