Perspectives: Hate crimes legislation, a solution worse than the disease

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION – Outcry over the failure of Sen. Steve Urquhart’s bill to enact Hate Crimes Amendments to Utah law is offering us a unique learning opportunity.

Hate crimes legislation has been a perennial effort these past few legislative sessions. Proponents have vowed to bring it back again and again until they get what they want.

This is less a matter of making a reasoned case for such legislation and more a matter of simply trying to wear the rest of us down. This places a unique opportunity before us to explore the foundational principles at stake.

It’s a prime chance to more closely examine the difference between law and legislation and the merits of free associations versus forced associations.

There is a significant difference between laws and legislation. Historically, law was the process of determining what is just. Laws were based upon reason and experience.

It’s only within fairly recent times that legislation has quietly displaced the laws that were once based upon reason and experience.

Paul Rosenberg explains why this distinction matters:

Legislation is the edict of politicians, and nothing more. Under legislation, reason and experience are not required. Politicians – whom nearly all of us hold in low regard – create this new law and can change it on a whim.

In our day, this trend has created an almost irresistible urge to solve every perceived problem with legislation.

There are two highly undesirable side effects that are perpetuated by this approach. The first is that it gives opportunistic politicians a stature they do not deserve as their solutions are inevitably imposed by force rather than adopted by reason. They know full well that their enforcers will punish us on command, without question.

Giving moral relevance to the edicts of men whom a clear majority of people do not even respect doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The second side effect is that people come to place legislated solutions above reality itself. They obey reflexively out of intimidation rather than out of respect for laws that are just.

This heavy-handed approach can hardly be considered in harmony with the concept of genuine liberty.

Frederic Bastiat warned of this when he wrote:

There are two principles between which there can be no compromise: liberty and coercion.

Legal and lawful are not the same thing. The politicians who control what is “legal” and what isn’t are busy enacting hundreds of new pieces of legislation every year with little regard to what is right and wrong.

Hate crime legislation claims to punish hatred by enacting more serious penalties if a person commits a crime that is believed to be motivated by hatred.

Remember that there is no criminal injury a person may do to another that is not already covered by an existing law. For hate crimes legislation to work as intended, the law must divide us into groups and then apportion enhanced “protection” based upon whether we belong to one of the groups that are explicitly named.

This flies in the face of the idea that we are all equal before the law.

Instead, this type of legislation institutionalizes our societal divisions. It pits us against one another as pressure groups seeking special legislation.

It seeks to force associations in the name of discouraging hate. This is a mistake.

Few things taint human relations like the act of forcing people together. On the other hand, when people are free to interact and associate without coercion, that’s when they learn to get along.

It has happened historically and it still happens in our day – right in our own towns. Even ancient hatreds tend to quietly disappear when we are left alone, in unforced conditions, to live as we wish.

The main reason this method is looked upon with disfavor today is that it robs power-seekers of the opportunity to divide and dominate us through force of law.

Beware of those who incite fear, anger, guilt or any other strong emotion to justify the enactment of legislation that substitutes the state’s force for our own reason. When we allow others to artificially divide us into forced groupings, the pack mentality takes over.

We tend to ignore the good and focus only on the bad in those who aren’t like us. This feeds the false status of the politicians who thrive on the various special interest groups competing for their attention and favors.

Hate cannot be solved by legislation.

When we voluntarily organize, cooperate and peacefully persuade others around common interests and goals, that’s when problems get solved.

We’re using natural law and higher laws rather than some politician’s edict to become civilized in the truest sense of the word.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Editor’s note on the legislation

The Hate Crimes Amendments bill, SB 107 during the 2016 General Session, failed to pass in the final phase of the Senate process March 2. The Senate vote included 11 in favor, 17 against and 1 not voting. From Southern Utah, Urquhart voted in favor of the bill; Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins and Evan Vickers voted against it.

Urquhart’s proposed joint resolution, SJR 13 during the 2016 General Session, proposes amendments to the Utah rules of evidence to protect the free speech rights of a person accused of hate crimes except as such expression relates specifically to the crime charged or is introduced for purposes of impeachment – i.e. to challenge the credibility of a witness. A substitute draft of the proposed joint resolution was filed in response to committee recommendation and unanimously passed second reading in the Senate on Feb. 26. As this column publishes, the proposed joint resolution remains circling on the Senate’s third reading calendar – the final phase of the Senate process. To become effective, the resolution requires a constitutional two-thirds vote of all members elected to each of the Senate and House and does not require signature by the governor. Utah’s General Session runs through Thursday.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • anybody home March 7, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I understand why Bryan Hyde and so many others in Utah worry about hate crimes legislation. There’s a lot of hate in Utah. I’ve lived all over the country and I never felt or heard outright hate as much as in Utah. Not often directed at me personally but in conversations with those around me, exchanges overheard in restaurants and other public places, people suggesting that I, like them, no doubt hated certain groups of people – people of color, gays, other religions. The people they didn’t want moving into their neighborhoods or whose kids would not be allowed to play with their own kids. Having a good president of color, of course, has exacerbated the hate among a large part of Utah’s population.

    It’s ugly and it’s in Utah. And it’s perpetrated by people like Bryan Hyde who think Utah has nothing to be ashamed of. Utah has plenty to be ashamed of and it’s about time this state joined the rest of America instead of continuing to behave as if righteousness is the best way of life and that it’s okay to stare at people of color, including children, who walk into a public library, stare at them as if they are from another planet.

    Hate crimes are rooted in many actions, opinions and attitudes passed from one generation to another and from one group to another. Sublety is a great way to commit a hate crime. This is not what Jesus had in mind.

    No, Bryan, your specious argument is wrong. Hate crimes legislation might not cure the disease, but it would make clear to those who encourage or commit hate crimes that this behavior will not be tolerated. Utah can begin by apologizing to the President of the United States.

    • BIG GUY March 7, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      Anybody, as Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics say in “The Boxer,” “A man hears what he wants to hear.” How about some facts instead? Try the FBI state-by-state crime rankings where Utah is the 7th safest state in the country. If you’ve lived all over the country, you’ve almost certainly lived in places with significantly higher crime rates than Utah’s. Those must be the real “hating” places.

      Designating some crimes as “hate crimes” makes progressives feel good without accomplishing anything meaningful. Does designating some crimes as “hate crimes” deter those who might otherwise commit them? Before you answer yes, tell us whether you think applying the death penalty to first degree murder deters those who would otherwise murder.

    • mesaman March 7, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      This may come as an abrupt surprise but there’s a lot of hate in most every state in this union. If you are aware of a state that doesn’t have a lot of hate (I wonder how you propose to determine that point when hate reaches the “a lot of” level?) then please share it with us. Hate, like love, is far easier to talk about and rant and rave about but difficult to legislate without diminishing the rights of one party for the sake of the other. That is hypothetical mind you. Not indisputable fact.

    • Ron March 8, 2016 at 8:44 am

      The majority of Utah will apologize to the sorry-excuse-for-a-President when he apologizes to all of America for all the harm he has caused this great country. The racial divide he has nurtured, the 19 trillion dollar debt he has plunged this country into, the 49 million more people he has driven to food stamps, the “real” unemployment rate of nearly 12%, the diminishing of our once great military, the infusion of muslim terrorists into our country he has encouraged and allowed, the millions of illegal immigrants that have financially burdened the country, the condemnation of Christianity and its disrespect for it.
      Do I need to keep going? I do not disrespect the office of the presidency….I disrespect the man who currently serves as the worst president the USA has ever had in its history. Change cannot come soon enough. When Obama apologizes to America, maybe, just maybe I could forget about him.

  • BIG GUY March 7, 2016 at 11:53 am

    While I don’t believe as Bryan does that legislators are motivated by a desire to “divide and dominate” us, I am quick to agree that the entire concept of hate crimes doesn’t make sense to me. Punish the act, not the supposed motivation.

    In passing, Bryan makes another important point. He states, legislators have “…an almost irresistible urge to solve every perceived problem with legislation.” While in most cases perceived problems are real problems, the result of such legislation is twofold. First, a government bureaucracy is created to solve the problem, a constituency arises that benefits from government largess and that clamors for more and opposes any reduction or scaling back, and almost invariably unintended consequences create new problems. Examples: the New Deal REA and TVA are still around, sucking up taxpayer dollars. How about the ethanol lobby?

    Second, even if our nation had unlimited resources, the human condition gives rise to many problems that cannot be solved by government action. We don’t have unlimited resources and government tries to do too much. Period. We will have to learn to draw the line, to say “no” in some cases.

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