Support for Hate Crime Laws
Advocates of harsher punishment for hate crimes state that hate crimes cause greater individual and societal harm. This is probably because when the very root of a person’s identity is attacked, the humiliation caused is severe, and results in disempowerment of a group of people in the society. This causes a tear in the very fabric of a free society. It is for this very reason that hate crimes are sometimes referred to as “message crimes:” violence intended to send a message to a minority within a community. Advocates favoring hate crime legislations also feel that chances for retaliatory crimes are greater when a hate crime has been committed. Therefore, they feel that there should be laws that recognizes the gravity of hate crimes and prevents their recurrence. In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them.
Opposition to Hate Crime Laws
Those opposing hate crime legislation feel that hate crime statutes which criminalize bias-motivated speech or symbolic speech conflict with free speech rights. American justice is based on the principle that everyone is treated identically. In R. A. V. v. St. Paul, the petitioner was charged with violating the St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance.[i] The Court held that the First Amendment did not permit the government to impose special prohibitions on speakers who express views on disfavored subjects. [ii] It is generally felt that criminalization of bias-motivated speech conflicts with right of free speech because they isolate certain language based its content or viewpoint. In effect this criminalizes even thoughts and can thus be said to create a new category of crime namely, “thought crimes”. This will lead to a situation where belief, thought and speech is criminalized. People not in favor of hate crime legislation also feel that such legislation effectively makes certain ideas or beliefs, including religious ones, illegal. This conflict with an even more fundamental right: the right of free thought.
Opponents of hate crime laws also feel that prosecution of hate crimes further divides society by reinforcing the marginalization of minority groups. Opponents of hate crime legislations point out that all violent crimes are the result of the offender’s contempt for the victim. They argue that in such a case, all crimes are hate crimes. If there is no alternate rationale for prosecuting some people more harshly than others for the same crime based on who the victim is, a situation arises where different offenders charged with the same offence are treated unequally under the law. This results in violation of the United States Constitution.
[i] St. Paul, Minn., Legis. Code § 292.02 (1990)
[ii] R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (U.S. 1992)