Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Criminalizing thoughts and speech

Frazier Glenn Cross is not a particularly nice person. He is a former grand dragon of the KKK and he's been charged with the murder of three folks in Missouri. Apparently he decided he wanted to kill some Jewish folk prior to Passover.

If Mr. Cross pulled the trigger and killed three people then he should be convicted of murder in a Missouri court. He should receive whatever punishment the court deems appropriate. So long as he is afforded due process of law, he will deserve whatever he gets in state court.

But los federales want to charge him with a hate crime. The government says that because he said he wanted to kill Jews that his sentence should be enhanced. Let's forget for a second that we have something called the First Amendment that protects our right to say things that others disagree with.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that none of the three people he killer were Jewish.

The federal hate crimes statute - and the hate crimes statutes in various states - are all appalling violations of the First Amendment. Mr. Cross should be punished for what he did this past weekend. Murder is still against the law in Missouri. Punishing him for what he was thinking - or what he said - is wrong.

The fact that a person spouts racist ideas before pulling the trigger doesn't change the outcome of his actions. He pulled a gun, aimed it and pulled the trigger. A person is dead because of it. Whether he said "Kill the Jews!" or "Kill the blacks!" or kill some other ethnic, religious or gender-based group doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether he pulled the trigger with the intent to kill someone.

We don't need to be in the position of policing thoughts and speech. We don't need to prosecute folks because of what they said or thought at the time. The only thing that should matter is what the person did given the chance.

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