In this country it has long been held that a person's beliefs are unassailable; however, he is responsible for his actions. No more. We all now know that in progressively liberal America the distinction between thought and deed is disappearing. Bad thought is punishable and good thought is rewarded.
There are serious problems with this. Once you allow that you can legislate thought, then it's a trivial matter to ignore that major mistake and instead focus on which thoughts should be regulated. This isn't a slippery slope fallacy; it's reality. The Right already wants to mandate particular religious expressions. The Left already wants to mandate particular social expressions. The nature of their mistakes is identical; it's only the implementation that differs... and that, only slightly. Both extremes advocate legislation that is identical in nature to sharia law, while simultaneously denying that it's anything like that. This inability to see the similarities is a peculiar mental aberration, but far too common.
But let's face it: sharia law is not merely the application of religious laws of behavior, but of belief and intent. Were it just a matter of behavior, the application of one set of standards vs. another is arguable. Relativists would say that there is nothing to prefer one standard over another. In fact, fundamentalist Christians often hold up the Ten Commandments and other Old Testament law as being a justification for legislation, but such justification must be summarily discarded due to the First Amendment; otherwise there could be no logical reason for not using sharia law as well.
In practice, nobody's really a relativist. We in the West have historically preferred classically liberal laws that preserve the autonomy of individual thought. So we denounce slavery and promote religious freedom, including the freedom not to practice religion at all. Without true freedom OF religion we wind up with a kind of secular tyranny that prevents everyone from practicing equally.
You might see where that line of thought goes, as we actually have that sort of tyrannical pressure today from folks who would impose legislation that is based on a principle of "freedom from religion". These people, even when not required to participate in a religious practice, claim that they are "offended" by the sight of such practices, and pretend that their "offense" is more important than someone else's liberty. They could, in actual fact, just sit back and watch someone else practice a ritual or pray with whatever level of interest or disinterest as they prefer. This is just as a Christian might watch a Jew lighting a menorah without being inclined to convert to Judaism. But they don't. They'd rather control others and impose their own practices on others. "Secular sharia" is a disturbingly accurate label for this.
Militant Muslims want universal Islam; fundamentalist Christians want a Christian government; Activist atheists want not just a secular State, but a purely secular Commons. All of these... every single one... is unconstitutional. We can constitutionally pass no law that either establishes a religion or prohibits its exercise. Of course, there will always be those who "interpret" the Constitution differently, but this has thus far proven always to be motivated by frustration that this clear provision is pretty damned inconvenient for those who want to do the controlling. And that's exactly what it's intended to be. That's not a "flaw" of the Constitution: it's a feature.
So why this discussion of religion? Because religion is a pure matter of belief and is thus easily illustrated. But the same principle holds true for other systems of belief:
Three men -- Al, Bob, and Joe -- are separately walking the paths of Central Park. All three are attacked by muggers. All three are beaten equally severely. All three receive similar medical treatment. All three of the attackers are caught and successfully prosecuted. Bob and Joe's attackers each receive sentences of 7 years; Al's attacker receives a sentence of 25 years.
Why the difference? Because the prosecutor points out that Al's attacker is anti-homosexual, and Al is gay. Al's attack, therefore, is prosecuted as a hate crime. Though Bob and Joe were as equally damaged as Al, in New York they will not receive equality of treatment under the law.
But wait! Joe is also gay! The offenses against him and Al were identical and their injuries were identical. Why doesn't Joe deserve the same justice as Al? Answer: because Joe's attacker is also homosexual. Thus, not only does Joe not get equality of justice, but his attacker avoids the harsher penalty under the law. It is emotion and belief and nothing else that raised Al's attack to a first class felony.
If this sounds like unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, that's because it is.
Until recently if you asked any lawyer what is the purpose and importance of determining motive in a case, he would tell you that it is to establish the desire of the suspect to accomplish the crime: the "mens rea". It's extremely difficult to eliminate reasonable doubt if your suspect had no demonstrable desire to commit a crime. But once you demonstrate desire, means, and opportunity sufficient to gain a conviction, the sentencing would be based on the actual criminal act. But with the advent of hate crimes, that's no longer true.
We have hate crime laws not for redress of the acts that are perpetrated, but for the thoughts that motivated those acts. If we were punishing the act, then those laws would never have been considered, much less passed. We already have laws against assault, battery, libel, slander, etc. We have always had them. They have always covered the acts in question. It has always been possible to prosecute under those laws.
Hate crimes punish thought.
Again, we already know that given the opportunity to punish dissenting thought, people grab at it. This is another case. No slippery slope. Fact. Past tense. Been there, done that. And those that support and pass such laws are in the same conceptual category as those that commit the offenses! Yes, would be Thought Police, you make a place for yourself in the company of the Loony Left, the Radical Right, the fundie Christians, the militant Muslims and all the other would-be tyrants who want to control how you think. You do this because you've been taught that it's OK to control thought. You validate their practices. The only argument is over who gets to pull the strings. You do what they do and bitch about them wanting to do it.
It's terrible when someone beats you up because you're whatever it is you are: Black or Jewish or Gay or Hispanic or a woman or Irish or Polish or Native American or short or rich or poor or weak or shy or homeless or any of the other things that people can and have gotten beat up over. It's just as terrible when someone beats you up for no particular reason other than you were there. It's positively chilling when someone beats you up not because he hates you, but because he just enjoys it. I can justify no reason whatsoever to prefer one of these over the other, or to punish one more strongly than the other.
Hate crime legislation serves no purpose but thought control, which is itself abhorrent and unconstitutional. When it comes to the law, equality should mean Justice for all, not Justice for "just us". This is why "hate crimes" are every bit as abhorrent to a classical liberal as sharia is to an atheist. They invoke images of George Orwell's 1984... which is where we get the term "thought police".
It is SO easy... so very, very easy... to live and let live. To be tolerant of the differences that exist between others and yourself. And yet you, America, can't bring yourself to do that very simple, very adult thing. You're a nation of spoiled brats who all want your own petty way and can't stand it if someone else hurts your widdle feewings by not agreeing with you. PLEASE grow up. Or at least have children who will go beyond the limited maturity of your own pathetic, pitiful arrested development.
It is a sad state of affairs when we live in a country that has abolished slavery of the body only to promote slavery of the mind. But here we are, in the good old USA in exactly that predicament.
|Postscript: Shortly after writing this I was studying the Halliwell Manuscript [link], a masonic poem written circa 1390. In it, I found these two lines of verse:
"If thou wilt not thyself pray
Hinder no other man by no way"
Honestly, if we want to be thought of as "more enlightened" than the people of the Middle Ages, then in some respects we as a society are going to have to up our game.