Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

“Hate Crime” Laws

A horrible crime was committed some miles north and west of Loveland—in Laramie, Wyoming. A young man, Matthew Shepard, was tied to a fence in a desolate area and deliberately beaten until he was almost dead. A few days later he did die in the hospital in Ft. Collins. Matthew Shepard was “gay.” This terrible act has been widely reported across the country—and even over the whole world. Doubtlessly, every one of the readers of this article has heard of the event. The two young men accused of killing Matthew Shepard were caught and are presently held for trial. If convicted, they can and likely will receive the death penalty.

A spate of articles have been printed about all of this—many of which advocate expanded “hate crime” laws.The Denver Post, October 19, 1998, reports the reaction of Attorney General Janet Reno.

Attorney General Janet Reno urged Congress to expand federal hate crime laws to include offenses based on sexual orientation, saying Sunday that the killing of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard shows the government must take a stronger stand.

Reno, appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition,” said such nationwide legislation is needed to address “situations where the state cannot or will not take action.”

She said a bill introduced almost a year ago—but not passed by the current Congress—sends “a clear message from the federal government, if we can get it passed, that hate crimes will not be tolerated.”

…Reno said the legislation would not pre-empt state action against those involved in hate crimes. The Justice Department would consult with states, she said, and “if the state after consultation cannot do it and says that the federal government should proceed, this is too important for this nation not to let justice take its course.”

Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, said conservative groups like his are being smeared by those who blame them for inciting an anti-gay atmosphere with their campaigns to get gays to go straight.

He said on CNN that his group is not going to change its opposition to gay marriages and other gay lifestyle choices, and said it was “terrible that the murder of this young man is being exploited” by the Clinton administration.

Reno also pressed for expanded hate crimes legislation when she met last week with representatives of more than a dozen gay and lesbian groups.

One wonders, of course, about the purpose of “expanded hate crime laws.” What would such laws mean for the two young men accused of this terrible crime? They already face the death penalty. Or is it directed against those who condemn homosexuality? Is such condemnation now to be judged as a “hate crime?” Is the government, in its court system, going to be the judge of one’s thought as well as one’s act?

One might even ask, “What crime is ever committed in love?” And is the crime any worse when one kills a “gay” person because he hates “gays,” than when he kills a little old granny in order to take her purse?

There are presented some very serious reflections on the proposals to pass “hate crimes” laws (and most states have some form of these already). One of interest was written by Alan Keys, himself a man of “color.” It appeared in the World Net Daily, October 16, 1998.

A great furor on behalf of “hate crimes legislation” is being stirred up by the usual suspects in response to the heinous crime in Wyoming this week—two thugs beating a young man to death. Defenders of free speech and private conscience should take this liberal offensive very seriously. And we need to begin by thinking through the call for hate crimes legislation in the wake of the Wyoming murder. In fact, we are seeing the ruthless exploitation of this terrible tragedy by those who wish to push the agenda that will give them the power to coerce conscience on issues of moral concern.

Because what do we find if we examine the details of the situation in Wyoming? It was, indeed, a terrible crime of physical violence. But if we examine the legal facts of the situation, it turns out that if the murderers are convicted of this crime they stand in danger of the death penalty, because the death penalty exists in Wyoming for this kind of a heinous murder. So people are clamoring that we need to pass hate crime laws, and yet based on the nature of the act of terrible violence itself, the men who did it are already subject to the death penalty. Is it proposed that murders that are also hate crimes should be punished more severely than by the death penalty? (The criminal might respond: “I regret that I have but one life to give for my crime!” —G.V.B.)

The whole concept of hate crimes is faulty. There are indeed crimes motivated by hatred, but it is not entirely clear to me what that does to the crime itself. Take an example. Let’s say that I am a ruthless drug dealer, and one of my drug deals goes wrong because somebody double-crosses me. And I don’t hate this individual; I don’t feel anything in particular. I’m a crook myself, and expect that people are going to be crooked. But in a very cold-blooded and calculated way I realize that my whole business will fall apart if I let people cross me up this way. So I plot, and systemically carry out, the extermination of this person who crossed me up. But there is no hatred involved.

Put that side by side with a crime that is motivated by racial, or religious, or other kinds of bigotry, but with the end result being, in each case, the deliberate murder of an individual. Should we have two separate standards for these two murders? Or should we judge by the nature of the act, not the nature of the attitude that accompanied the act? Does the fact that I kill you in cold blood, without the fires of racial or other hatred in me, mean that my killing of you is somehow less terrible than the other killing?

The proper approach to take toward crimes is to judge the act, not the attitude. We must insist that our government restrict itself to punishing the action, because the government has no right to punish attitudes. The real purpose behind the hate crime legislation movement, however, is to accord to the government the right to punish attitudes.

But not all attitudes, mind you. Just those attitudes that disagree with the liberal ideologues and their state religion. These would-be thought police are trying to take advantage of a terrible and real crime in order to criminalize the offense of dissent from the religion of sexual indulgence. They want to force us to treat it as a terrible crime if someone considers homosexuality to be immoral. And so they are using this episode and other episodes, where the crimes in and of themselves would justify harsh punishment, in order to convince us that harsher punishment is needed because of the attitude that accompanied the crime.

The fact that Wyoming law already envisions death as the appropriate penalty for such cases just makes it clearer that the goal of the liberals is not to strengthen punishment of crime. What is really going on here is an effort to convert our laws in such a way that the liberal ideologues of the permissive left will be able to enforce their ideology with fire and the sword, particularly against people of faith, who, based on their scriptural beliefs, refuse to accept their culture of sexual licentiousness and self-indulgence….

…The hate crimes legislation movement is bogus, but the existence of hateful attitudes toward the Christian conscience is undeniable. This is a very dangerous world that we are moving into. And sadly speaking, it is clear that opponents of the Christian conscience will use every opportunity, and will even make use of terrible and tragic events, in order to promote their political agenda. And that is what is happening in the Wyoming case. We face the promotion of a political ideology that aims at arming the liberal left with coercive force of law as its advocates come after those who disagree with their immorality….

…The whole push with respect to hate crimes legislation is an effort to create a body of law that allows the government to coerce opinions, and to punish people because of their opinions. In this particular case, the opinion that is going to be punished is the opinion that homosexuality is immoral and against the laws of God. That opinion is now going to become a crime. And this whole push with respect to hate crimes is an effort to establish that agenda….

…Jefferson said that the opinions of men were not under the jurisdiction of civil government. At the end of the day, government can govern men’s actions, it cannot govern their hearts. And when it attempts to govern their hearts, that is simply an excuse for the worst kind of tyranny. And make no mistake, tyranny is what these liberals seek to impose on us.

The warning is appropriate and very necessary. Truly we live in dangerous times. Is it perhaps true that all who condemn the sin of homosexuality will soon be judged guilty of a “hate crime”? How long will it be before the Bible itself is judged a book encouraging “hate crimes” when it condemns so strongly homosexuality—which must therefore be outlawed?