Friday, February 05, 2010

More equal than others?

Just this AM on Facebook I read a friend's posting:
"Three Michigan Christian pastors sue to halt federal anti-hate crimes law. They demand the right to speak hate toward GLBT people. Sheesh...have they even checked their own religion? Last I checked, Jesus didnt speak hate against anybody."
From what I read online, the pastors weren't demanding, ".. the right to speak hate toward GLBT people." Instead they were suing to protect their First Amendment right to practice their religion and their Fifth Amendment right to due process.

They don't want to be prosecuted for thought crimes any more than I do.

One of the articles I found online summed up their complaint:
"Robert Muise, Senior Trial Counsel for TMLC (Thomas More Law Center) who is handling the case, observed, “This new federal law promotes two Orwellian concepts. It creates a special class of persons who are ‘more equal than others’ based on nothing more than deviant, sexual behavior. And it creates ‘thought crimes’ by criminalizing certain ideas, beliefs, and opinions, and the involvement of such ideas, beliefs, and opinions in a crime will make it deserving of federal prosecution. Consequently, government officials are claiming the power to decide which thoughts are criminal under federal law and which are not."
I resisted the temptation to edit-out, ".. based on nothing more than deviant, sexual behavior," for its obvious bias against gays, deciding instead to leave it as-is because it is not my responsibility to mask others' biases.

The actual complaint is available online at The Thomas More Law Center.

The challenge with constitutional rights is we must protect others' rights as jealously as we guard our own--even when we disagree them. As it's been said too often before, but is worth repeating, it is easier to protect someone elses speech when you agree with it than when we do not.

Or as Mark Twain wrote, "Tis a fine thing to fight for one's own freedom; tis a far sight finer to fight for another man's."

And so it is with freedom of speech and equal protection. I don't understand the Commerce Clause argument but will keep reading.

PS Christ's teachings and Christianity's position on homosexuality is orthogonal to this issue, and has already been exhaustively argued elsewhere. To debate the merits of the complaint based on either misses the point of the law and more often exposes our ignorance of New Testament scripture than anything else.


  1. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about any "hate crime", since they are, by definition, already crimes:

    "a criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin."

    "Hate Crime definition," FBI, at:

    So it does seem redundant. As in other areas, America will tend to overcompensate for a history of discrimination against a particular group. That said, I'm not sure how the Pastors feel their speech is being curtailed, because unless I misunderstand, they'd have to actually commit something that meets the existing definition of a crime against a gay person to be charged with a "hate crime". Nobody thoughts are being policed. I can still speak out against a group if I feel like it. The KKK can run a parade down main street saying whatever they want, that is not a hate crime, because they have the right to free speech.

    I believe in live and let live. Since I have no intention of committing any crimes upon anybody, making punishment more severe if a crime is motivated by a hatred of a certain group has little effect on me, and I question the motives of those would we be so stirred to fight such inclusion in existing hate crime laws, unless they are also arguing to repeal all such laws.

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  3. "I'm not sure how .. their speech is being curtailed.."

    From what I've read, the specific section of the hate crimes law, in the plaintiffs' opinion, allows the DoJ to prosecute them for preaching against homosexuality.

    In their interpretation of the law, their opinions (thoughts, speech) are criminal even absent an assault. A broad interpretation to be sure, but the laws language gives broad prerogative to the DoJ and removes ordinary limitations from them.

    ..or at least that's their complaint.

  4. From my understanding, this is only an expansion of existing hate crime law to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. An expansion of those laws would not infringe on first ammendment rights. The pastors are attempting to stir up that fear, but have no case. They claim their worry is that if someone listening to their anti-gay sermons commits a hate crime against someone of the LGBT community, they could be held accountable. Sounds like a pretty flimsly case to me. Any example of that happening with a different group? Of course an even better way to protect themselves against being blamed for a member of their flock committing violence against someone of the LGBT community is to stop passing judgement on others, as I believe there's only one who should be worrying about that particular job.

  5. I beleive (but don't have references to) instances where white-supremecists have been prosecuted for inciting violence, but in those instances I recall their speech advocating violence against blacks and black-sympathizers.

    Or maybe that was an episode of Law & Order...

  6. Anyone interested in knowing more about the new hate crime law can read it -- it requires criminal conduct which cause bodily injury and it has several explicit free speech and First Amendment protections. It's Division E of HR 2647 from the 111th Congress:

  7. The link didn't work for me, but these do:

    Division E, where the act begins

    Amendment to Chapter 13, title 18, United States Code at issue the in lawsuit.

    Rule of Construction, where free speech rights are addressed.

    As best I can tell, Rules of Construction are created to provide context and direction from the legislature for judicial interpretation.

    Anonymous makes a good point, and I wish I could give it credit (alas, it's anonymous), but it appears as though the bill provides some cover for free speech rights in the Rule of Construction.

    I'll let someone else speculate on how that affects the lawsuit.