NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Hate crime law makes sense, but be careful on the definitions

How can anyone be against having a hate crime law in Indiana to strike back at crimes committed because of bias?

The reasons include concerns about passing legislation that might go too far.

Sure, we are outraged that Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel was targeted by vandals who spray-painted Nazi flags and iron crosses on a brick shed on their property. We want justice.

Yes, without a hate crime law, when the suspects are found they will likely only be charged with vandalism. With a hate crime law the penalties could be more severe.

“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims, and their voices will not be silenced,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said Monday in response to the early Saturday morning vandalism on the grounds of the synagogue. “For that reason it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation–and not 1 of 5 states without it.”

Following failed attempts at passing a hate crime law in the previous two years, the issue was debated with renewed vigor in this year’s legislative session following the deadly white nationalist rally last summer in Charlottesville, Va.

But Senate members couldn’t come to an agreement.

With Holcomb’s support, legislation may finally get pushed through the General Assembly next time, but our concern is that the language and purpose be carefully and wisely debated before being rushed into law.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

The FBI points out, however, that hate itself is not a crime and that the law enforcement organization remains mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

That should be among the primary concerns with establishing hate crime laws. While there are, indeed, real strongholds of hate in Indiana as elsewhere, such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the left continually tries to broaden the definition of hate to include anyone who disagrees with them.

A piece written earlier this year for News-Sentinel.com by Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, pointed out a troubling example from 2004 when five women and six men were handcuffed and taken to a Philadelphia jail where they sat for 21 hours before being charged with “ethnic intimidation” under Pennsylvania’s hate crime law.

Those non-violent offenders, he wrote, “including a 73-year-old African-American grandmother … peacefully passed out religious literature on public sidewalks during the homosexual OutFest. Penalties for this ‘crime’ could have reached 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines.”

The judge in the case, however, dismissed the charges as being without merit.

A hate crimes law can put the state on tricky moral and philosophical ground if, indeed, it leaves open the possibility of punishing people for what they think. Legislators, beware. As Clark pointed out, we must make sure that in America, “we punish people for what they do, not for what they think or believe.”

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