Prosecution of cardinal shows problems with 'hate speech' laws

Prosecution of cardinal shows problems with ‘hate speech’ laws

Prosecution of cardinal shows problems with ‘hate speech’ laws

Thomas D. Williams says that while hate signals a deep human and moral problem, it only becomes a criminal problem when one’s behavior contravenes the law.

At first blush, hate-crime and hate-speech legislation seem like praiseworthy ideas, but there are serious reasons to hold back the natural desire to eliminate hate through law. For instance, how is hatred for a group worse than hatred for an individual? And, who will decide which categories of people are to be included in the catalogs of those not to be hated?

Commentary

This week, the Spanish Network for Refugees initiated criminal proceedings against the Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, charging him with inciting “hate crimes,” after the prelate spoke out publicly against a reigning “gay empire,” criticized radical feminist groups, and decried Europe’s open-door policy toward migrants.

In their statement, the network said that Cañizares “is an ultra-conservative trying to subvert the constitutional order,” and accused him of nostalgia for “other times when immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and women were subjected to the dictates of a society governed by the powers of the Catholic Church.”

This latest case confirms the fears of many that hate-speech legislation will be used to silence the voice of Christians on unpopular topics, especially those regarding unlimited sexual license. But it also furnishes an opportunity to examine the underlying problems with hate legislation itself.

At first blush, hate-crime and hate-speech legislation seem like praiseworthy ideas. Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and a host of other “isms” grounded in hate are great moral and social evils, and legislation designed to eradicate the root cause holds tremendous appeal.

But there are serious reasons to hold back the natural desire to eliminate hate through law. Four specific problems come to mind.

The first concerns the limits of law. Civil legislation exists to promote the common good, in part by prohibiting certain actions that are harmful to the public order. It is beyond the competence of the law to judge the interior of man and his intentions, or to oblige citizens to love their neighbor, as desirable as this would be.

Hate signals a deep human and moral problem, but only becomes a criminal problem only when one’s behavior contravenes the law. True, prosecutors do investigate motive and premeditation, but only to ascertain guilt and the level of personal responsibility involved in a given act.

The matter of criminal law, however, is not internal dispositions but external actions.

Second, why single out hate crimes among all possible crimes of passion? Hate is a terrible passion, but then again so is anger. Must we also draft ad-hoc legislation for envy crimes, greed crimes, and lust crimes?

Nothing seems to indicate that hate crimes are intrinsically more evil than crimes motivated by pride, jealousy, anger or any other passion of the human heart. In addition, many wicked deeds are motivated by a combination of these passions and elude categorization altogether.

Defining crimes by the underlying passion is an exercise in futility and arbitrariness.

Third, hate crime legislation implies not only the motivation of hate, but hate toward some abstract “class” of persons, determined by race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other distinguishing trait.

According to much anti-hate legislation, it is not enough that a criminal “hate” the person assaulted, murdered or robbed; he has to hate the entire category of persons to which that individual belonged.  By this rationale, if I kill my neighbor because I hate him as a person, somehow it would be less grave than killing him because he is Jewish, or Asian or gay.

Yet how is hatred for a group worse than hatred for an individual? And who will decide which categories of people are to be included in the catalogs of those not to be hated? Such legislation exacerbates rather than alleviates our obsession with “classes” and undermines the democratic ideal of judicial impartiality.

Fourth, not all hatred is evil. We rightly hate pedophilia and prostitution and bigotry. Without the hatred of racism, there would have been no civil rights movement.

The law is ill-equipped to judge the reasonableness of one’s hate, but can only judge its consequences when a person allows himself to be carried by it to criminal activity. Moreover, hate crimes legislation cannot possibly distinguish between hatred of the person and hatred of actions.

In June of 2005, Pastor Ake Green of Borgholm Pentecostal Church in eastern Sweden was sentenced to a month in prison for preaching against homosexuality. He didn’t advocate aggression towards homosexuals, but restated the biblical understanding of homosexual activity as evil.

According to the democratic ideal, rooted in our Judeo-Christian heritage, hate of persons is evil, but not all hate of actions or ideas is irrational or wrongheaded. A woman who kills a male chauvinist is guilty of murder, but her crime was not her hatred of sexism, but her chosen method of combating it.

Her punishment should reflect the evil of her action, not the righteousness of her motivation.

In March 2015, the Spanish senate voted to enact controversial changes to the nation’s public security laws, in what many decried as suppression of the rights of freedom of assembly and expression. At the time, Virginia Pérez Alonso of the Platform in Defense of Freedom of Information called the legislation “one of the worst attacks on liberties that we’ve seen in Spain since the times of Franco.”

As the New York Times gingerly noted in reference to the Spanish ruling, some European countries “have long placed stricter limits on political and hate speech than has the United States.”

Some civil liberties groups “are growing increasingly alarmed at the broad ways such laws are being adapted,” the paper observed, and “there is no telling how the statutes could be applied in the future.”

It only took a year to see how the statute could be used against Christians. When public authority starts playing the role of thought police, Christians – or any other counter-cultural misfits – should gird their loins for tough times ahead.

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