It’s the thought that counts

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

—Section One of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

A reader wrote the following to me in response to the Right Hook column regarding my opinion about hate crimes legislation. (It’s edited for length.)

Mike Lafferty’s condescending tirade in his “Right Hook” column against supporters of the Matthew Shepard Act conveniently omits the following:

1) Hate crime legislation has nothing to do with punishing thought. It has to do with punishing actual physical crimes designed to both harm the individual and terrorize the group to which that individual belongs. That is why 210 national law enforcement, professional, education, civil rights, religious and civic organizations support this legislation.

That is also why no clergyperson, nor anyone else, will be hauled away for proclaiming their beliefs. That argument is a lie. If people proclaim their beliefs while assaulting someone, then that’s a problem.

2) This bill does not violate the 14th Amendment, it upholds it.

As usual, this is about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people demanding that they be treated equally to other Americans. Nothing more. And nothing less.

OK, let’s begin with the obvious. If my opinions are “tirades,” then I plead guilty as charged. However, I disagree with both the gentle reader and the 210 national law enforcement, professional, education, civil rights, religious and civic organizations he cites that support said legislation. (On a side note, I’d bet they’re the same organizations that advocate for gun control legislation, but that’s another column.)

Second, hate crimes legislation does punish thought. If I beat someone upside the head with a tire iron, that act is a crime deserving of punishment—assuming a prosecutor can prove it in a court of law.

On the other hand, as the reader and other individuals seem to believe, if I commit the same crime while espousing some epithets or professing some statement about [insert victim group], then that should augment or increase the punishment. Said another way, my thoughts are punished in addition to my actions.

And for the uninformed, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the post-Civil War amendments, commonly referred to as the Reconstruction amendments, that were intended, among other things, to secure rights for former slaves. (It includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses and others.) Among those who understand it (like yours truly), it is regarded as one of the most important components of the Constitution, perhaps most specifically because it made the Bill of Rights (that would be the first 10 amendments) directly applicable to the states.

If you need further proof, then consider the beginning language of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law.” Prior to the 14th, the states were able to make laws abridging freedom of speech, the press, assembly, etc.

Perhaps Bill Hamma in the letters section said it best: “Apparently, no crime is ever a hate crime unless it’s committed by whites against liberals’ pet victims. If you’re white and normal, forget it. No matter how brutally you’re murdered or what the motive was, it will never be a hate crime. Just one more illustration of liberal hypocrisy.”