The 3 Facts You Should Know about Hate Crime Laws

Maggie Gallagher recently vented — dishonestly — in a column decrying Judge Walker’s “judicial tyranny,” quoting Rush Limbaugh:

Rush Limbaugh had his finger on the truth. In the nearly half-hour speech he gave after the Proposition 8 ruling (“the American people are boiling over!”), Rush said that Walker “did not just slap down the will of 7 million voters. Those 7 million voters were put on trial — a kangaroo court where everything was stacked against them. … Those of you who voted for Prop 8 in California are guilty of hate crimes. You were thinking discrimination. That’s what this judge has said! Truly unprecedented.”

Rush is completely wrong, but that doesn’t matter to the anti-gay echo chamber.  He might just have veered into over-the-top hyperbole, but now Maggie is repeating the lie in print.  It suits her purpose:  the big new goal of the National Organization for Marriage is to paint anti-gays as victims of intolerant homosexuals who persecute good, sweet, gentle Christians.  If that means telling lies about hate crimes, then so be it.  Fortunately, you can refute this sort of paranoia with 3 simple facts.

The 3 Facts

1.  Hate crime laws don’t make anything illegal.

Hate crime laws merely provide enhanced penalties for actions traditionally recognized as crimes, but motivated by bias.  That’s all.   Don’t believe me?  Ask the FBI:

[H]ate crimes are not separate, distinct crimes; instead, they are traditional offenses motivated by the offender’s bias (for example, an offender assaults a victim because of a bias against the victim’s race).

In other words, if it wasn’t a crime before the hate crime law was passed, then it’s still not a crime afterward.

Do you know what people are doing when they claim American hate crime laws will criminalize the Bible or send pastors to jail for preaching homosexuality is a sin?  They’re lying.  Or, at the very least, speaking from ignorance.  They may give you examples from Canada or Sweden or other countries that don’t have a First Amendment, but they don’t apply to the US.

2.  Homosexuals don’t get special protection from hate crime legislation.

The Matthew Shepard Act added sexual orientation to the federal hate crimes statute.  It doesn’t specify homo or hetero.  If a gay man assaults a straight man out of hatred for straights, he can be charged with a hate crime.

Now at some point an anti-gay will protest, “But that STILL gives gays special treatment, because no one assaults straights for being straight!”  I hope I’m there, because it’ll be fun to watch him realize what he just said and try to suck those words back into his lungs.

3.  Christians are protected by hate crime legislation.

Actually, that’s true for people of all religions.  Been true for decades.  The religion protection is exactly the same as the sexual orientation protection (at the federal level at least; many states have protection for religion but not sexual orientation).   So when pastors say they worry about being prosecuted under hate crime laws for saying homosexuality is a sin?  If that were true, I could be prosecuted for saying that the bigotry of Pat Robertson or Jimmy Swaggart is a sin.  But neither of those things will happen because hate crime laws don’t make anything illegal.

Using these facts

It’s amazing how much crap you can refute with just these 3 facts.

Example 1

After the Carrie Prejean/Perez Hilton rumble, a US senator or representative said something like this (if anyone can find a reference I’d much appreciate it):  If Perez Hilton had marched on stage and ripped Carrie’s crown off her head, she could have been charged with a hate crime for stating her religious view, but Hilton would have been charged with nothing.


Hate crimes don’t make anything illegal. It’s never been illegal to state your religious views, and the Matthew Shepard Act doesn’t change that.  Carrie could not have been charged.

Christians are protected by hate crime legislation. If Hilton assaulted Prejean for her religious views, he could be charged with a hate crime.  Ripping a tiara off someone’s head counts as assault, so it’s already illegal regardless of hate crime legislation, and the anti-Christian bias would qualify it as a hate crime.

Example 2

Senator Jim DeMint spread this blatant untruth about the Matthew Shepard Act:

So if someone in effect were to hurt a homosexual, or maybe not hire one, that would become a hate crime, which is punished more than if you just hurt someone else.


Homosexuals don’t get special protection from hate crime legislation. A bias-motivated crime would be treated no differently if the victim were attacked for being gay than if he or she was attacked for being straight.

Christians are protected by hate crime legislation. Hate crime legislation has been around for decades and has never been used to prosecute discriminatory hiring, whether it based on the applicants’ religion, race, or national origin.  The Matthew Shepard Act does nothing to change that.  And even if it did, you could apply the law in exactly the same way against employers who refuse to hire Christians.  In fact, though, this is just a made-up scare tactic, so it doesn’t matter anyway.

Example 3

Representative Jim Pence said this:

Individual pastors who wish to preach out of Romans Chapter 1 about what the Bible teaches about homosexual behavior, they could be charged or be subject to intimidation for simply expressing a Biblical world view on the issue of homosexual behavior.


Hate crime laws don’t make anything illegal. It’s never been illegal to state your religious views, and the Matthew Shepard Act doesn’t change that.

That’ll do it.  There are a few other things you might want to remember, like our Constitution’s First Amendment, which sets us apart from other countries and limits our government’s ability to restrict free speech.  Also, the fact that the Matthew Shepard Act does have explicit (and Constitutionally redundant) free speech protections built into it.  Mostly, though, the 3 facts above will help you shoot down our opponents’ lies.

Happy hunting.

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14 comments to The 3 Facts You Should Know about Hate Crime Laws

  • 1
    John says:

    I don’t know, Rob, those look suspiciously like facts and reason… I’m not sure that’s allowed in the right-wing echo machine. It might just gum up the works or cause it to throw a piston. :-)

  • 2

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by, MY NAME IS [.....]. MY NAME IS [.....] said: RT @LGBTPride: The 3 Facts You Should Know about Hate Crime Laws – [...]

  • 3
    Martin says:

    Hi Rob. While I agree with most of what you have written, I must admit, it annoys the heck out of me when Americans (especially those I otherwise respect) spread this quite absurd idea that they live in the only country with special human rights and priviledges. Case in point, even the amended and watered-down Treaty of Lisbon version of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union grants in Articles 10 and 11 the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression (including the freedom of the press.) But differing from US practices, it also grants us the rights not to be executed or tortured (Articles 2 and 4). Also, it prevents absurdities such as US Sheriffs inventing their own brand of humiliating, degrading “justice” or growing rich on the exploitation of prisoners. It limits the powers of our governments to just go and rain death and destruction under false pretexts on foreign populations (granted, those are amongst the limitations the British are balking to except… how would they look in the eyes of their American friends if they couldn’t just send their bombers off to murder a few thousand civilians in other parts of the world.)
    I am sorry, but the time when the US were the cradle of human rights and liberties is long past, and it would suit the American people well to take a look in the mirror and correct some of the wrongs that not only lead to injustice within but also outside of their country. Better use that freedom of speech while “Homeland Security” still allows you to do so…

  • 4
    DN says:

    The other thing Hate Crimes laws are there for is to make sure that an uncooperative local police force cannot stonewall an investigation into a crime because of their own prejudices.

    For example, after George Steven Lopez Mercado’s tortured, dismembered, decapitated, and burned corpse was found, the cop heading up the case said (on TV), “people who lead this type of lifestyle need to be aware that this will happen.”

    If the lead investigator is saying that on TV, there is no chance this will get a fair investigation, and it’s time to bring in the Feds.


  • 5
    david michel says:

    people are stupid

  • 6
    Lauren--NY says:

    Fantastic, Rob. Passing along! <3

  • 7

    [...] risk as an atheist denouncing Christianity.  And that risk is zero.  American hate crime laws don’t make anything illegal.  They merely add enhanced penalties to actions that are already considered crimes, like assault, [...]

  • 8

    [...] risk as an atheist denouncing Christianity.  And that risk is zero.  American hate crime laws don’t make anything illegal.  They merely add enhanced penalties to actions that are already considered crimes, like assault, [...]

  • 9
    Simplecop says:

    Hi Rob,
    I would like to respond to your second example.  You quoted Senator DeMint as saying;
        “So if someone in effect were to hurt a homosexual, or maybe not hire one, that would become a hate crime, which is punished more than if you just hurt someone else.”
    Reguardless of how you look at it, this statement is true.  Being a white, straight, non-disabled male, if I were to be assaulted, the person that assaulted me would get a lesser PUNISHMENT than if a person that is protected by hate crime laws.  What the Senitor was saying is that the PUNISHMENT (not the investigation, not the way the crime was handled by police) is greater if the victim is covered under any of the hat crime laws.  No matter how you look at it, that is “special protection/rights.”  Also, hate crimes laws can (and in a lot of cases) get turned over to the Feds.  Not because the local police refuse to investigate, or because the local courts refuse to convict, but because the PUNISHMENT is greater if it goes through the Feds.  Once again, if I am assaulted I can not take my case to the Feds, and once again, that is “special protaction/rights.”
    Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to these rights and protections under the laws.  What I am opposed to is people trying to down play what is really the truth.  Let look at the laws for what they are.  Because I am less likely to be the victim of a “hate crime,” but am likely to be the victim of a “crime,” let’s call it what it is.  I have learned to live with the fact that I am not a “special” person under the law.  I will never see my offender(s) go to jail/prison for an extended period of time.
    Maybe when ALL people see what I have seen, then we won’t need to have special laws, or special rights.  I would like to believe that my health, safety and life is just as important as those covered by hate crime laws.  Until the day that others see and feel the same way as I do, we will never truely be free.

  • 10
    robtish says:

    Simplecop, I’m afraid you’re wrong on this.  Hate crime laws don’t talk about black or white, they talk about race.  They don’t specify straight or gay, they specify sexual orientation.

    In other words, hate crime laws protect a white man attacked for his race in exactly the same way they protect a black man attacked for his race.  They protect a straight man attacked for his sexual orientation in exactly the same way they protect a gay man attacked for his sexual orientation.

    Hate crime laws cover blacks and whites exactly the same.  Ditto for straights and gays.

  • 11
    Shanna says:

    Thank you so much for making such a concise yet simple argument that anyone can easily use to refute any of the ridiculous claims being made by the anti-gay set as pertains to hate crimes all being part of that evil “gay agenda” (you know, the one that only exists for those who actually claim such a thing is being employed throughout our country – and even the world – to “force” everyone to accept their “evil, perverted, anti-god ways”). 
    Sometimes the best argument with these people is one that is short, to-the-point, and as simply obvious as possible (even then, though, it isn’t always enough to break through their walls of willful ignorance).
    These three rules are ones I will definitely be referring back to when I find myself face-to-face with such absurd claims in the future.

  • 12
    Shanna says:

    @Simplecop:  I think you’ve missed the entire gist of this blog post.  Hate crime laws protect everyone equally.  Meaning that if you were attacked for being a white or straight or non-disabled (or even Christian or whatever religion, or lack thereof, you may practice) person, then there would be an extra penalty added on to the crime committed against you (not a new, specific penalty and possible conviction just for attacking someone who is any of those things or for not being one of those things).
    Any crime committed against your person is just that…a crime; illegal.  But if there is a bias element to it, that is where the hate crime law comes in.  It’s an addition to the crime already-committed; not a new crime in and of itself.
    And hate crime legislation isn’t set up for “special” groups in any way, shape, or form.  If so, then you could not be prosecuted under it for attacking someone who was, as you say you are, 1) white, 2) straight, and/or 3) non-disabled.  IF the law specifically excluded these (or any) groups, then you would have a point.  Yet they do not…the hate crime laws are there to protect everyone equally from bias and prejudicial violence.
    The argument in this article still stands, and everything you have said here can be refuted by the simple truths outlined herein.  True freedom, as you wish for, will only come when everyone knows and understands the actual laws of this country as they are written and set out instead of believing fear-based, political- and religious-fueld propaganda that is spawned only to further the agendas of the nefarious and ignorant.  I hope you, too, can learn to see through the crap and realize the simple truth for what is – best of luck to you.

  • 13
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