The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Letter to the Editor

Nathaniel French’s column that recently appeared in The Daily Campus, entitled “The best way to fight hate,” propagates the common misconception that hate crimes legislation is designed to punish hate-motivated crimes with the understanding that these crimes are simply worse than other crimes. As far as French rejects that notion, I agree. This, however, is not the purpose of hate crime legislation as it is typically understood and proposed in the bill currently under consideration by Congress.

Hate crimes are not simply crimes against a single person. Hate crimes are terrorist actions directed against an entire community of people. Burning a cross in someone’s yard is not just a property crime-it is a threat of violence directed at a class of people. The murder of Matthew Shepard was a tragedy for his friends and family, but it was also a message to individuals in the gay community: “Be who you are and we will kill you.”

Some would object that hate crimes legislation amounts to censoring speech. Opponents of this type of legislation claim that instead of targeting the crime committed, the perpetrator is being punished for some sort of misguided political message.

In this country, however, it has been a longstanding principle that speech whose purpose is to incite violence or create fear is not protected rhetoric under the Constitution.

More to the point, the person is not prevented from expressing their hate; they are simply barred from expressing that hate through terroristic violence. To the extent that hate crimes are committed to oppress entire classes of people, they are more than just crimes against individuals and criminals cannot hide behind the protections of the Bill of Rights.

In addressing other aspects of the opposition to the Matthew Shepard Act, as the bill currently under consideration is known, French rightly notes that attaching controversial legislation to defense authorizations is a practice of both Democrats and Republicans alike, and I will not argue for or against the validity of that practice here.

Mr. French also counsels Democrats to address the concerns of pastors that fear they may be prosecuted for disseminating anti-gay sermons. Without commenting on the irony that Christian pastors would seek to protect their right to disseminate hate, it has been debunked many times over that clergy would not be targeted for their speech.

The truth is, the Matthew Shepard Act only would apply to hateful, violent actions, not thoughts or words.

French is concerned about devaluing violent crime. If anything devalues violent crime, it is paying heed to fundamentalists who are more concerned about their ability to spew anti-gay rhetoric than in the suffering of the victims of hate crimes. Instead of “addressing these worries,” we should recognize this tactic for what it is: a cynical attempt by a small group of homophobic political and religious conservatives to derail legislation that, as numerous polls have shown, is overwhelmingly favored by the public.

I also agree that we should not devalue the experience of victims of violent crime not targeted based on ascriptive characteristics. In fact, I largely agree with the tone of French’s argument.

Reducing violent crime should be a priority regardless of against whom it is directed. We should make an effort to prevent crime before it starts so that families do not have to go through the mental anguish involved in losing a loved one.

Homophobia is a pervasive problem in society that needs to be challenged from the roots. Homosexuals should be afforded full legal equality. I commend French for supporting these goals.

To ignore the intent of violent hate crimes, however, empowers the perpetrators and inspires fear in those communities against which the crimes are targeted.

While punishing hate crimes against homosexuals will by no means solve the persistent discrimination against them in society, we must recognize hate crimes legislation as a valuable tool for achieving that goal and support the Matthew Shepard Act.

– P. J. Gardner

Senior political science major

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