Do hate crimes punish freedom of expression?

As a resident of Massachusetts this story of a brutal attack in a southeastern Massachusetts gay bar has gripped our area recently. That some nutjob would walk into a public place with a hatchet and other weapons and start assaulting people is simply barbaric.

But had he been caught and not killed, he would have been charged with ‘hate crimes’. My question is - would his constitutional right to free speech be violated?

We are guaranteed equal protection under the law as citizens, and supposedly protected against being punished twice for the same crime. But if this same guy walked into the local Dunkin Donuts and hatcheted my wife, he’d be up on assault. Whereas he hits a gay person - or a person of color - he gets charged for two crimes, the assault plus a ‘hate crime’.

If it is a matter of ensuring that people who would do such things be kept away from society, we already have ‘special circumstance’ sentencing.

Is it against the law to be a racist? Or sexist? Or homophobe? Aren’t minority opinions like this - especially when unpopular and difficult - fundamental to the freedoms we espouse?


While I am a libertarian at heart, I think the idea you hold of modern free speech is a bit of a myth. There’s plenty that you can’t say already that isn’t related to racism. You can’t, for example, slander an individual by lying about them. Given that, why should you be able to slander an entire group of people, by making unfair generalisations (otherwise known as lies and slander)?

I’m less concerned about racist remarks being outlawed than I am about the what racism is defined as. I don’t see a lot of harm in outlawing hate speech, where the only intension is to rile people up in anger against a certain group. I do object to broad sweeping definitions that roll up quite reasonable discussions on issues such as immigration under the racist monicker. Pushing such discussions underground by labeling them racist only increases resentment.


But what is hate speech? Is any negative comment against a minority a racist remark? When it is against a larger subgroup of that commuity does it transcend to ‘hate’?


Because even in legal terms, that’s not slander.

There is a strong precedent in our laws for adjusting the severity of punishment based on criminal intent. But that’s not what hate crime laws do; hate crime laws allocate stricter punishment based on people’s beliefs, and in that sense they are unprecedented in our legal system. Punishing people for something that they believe–wrongheaded or no–is not merely a bad thing. It runs contrary to the most fundamental principles on which our nation was founded.

Too dumb; didn’t read.?

uh huh

I don’t understand what you are trying to ask. What part of swinging at people with a hatchet constitutes as speech? Not trying to snide by the way, I just really don’t see the connection to free speech here. Had he been caught, he would have been sentenced based on his actions, not his opinions.

Did the original poster really say “person of color”?

We’re black. Thanks. :p

What I’m asking about is exactly what Ben mentions below:

So free ‘speech’ isn’t really the thing, it is freedom to believe what you want - the guy had anti-everyone stuff around his room at his parent’s house. But is that a crime? It would have been material evidence in prosecuting him had he been caught.

No - and that is the point: he would have been charged with assault and also with ‘hate crimes’. Therefore he would have been punished legally for public expression of ideas as well as violent acts.

Which means non-protected groups (like my wife in the aforementioned Dunkin Donuts) are ‘less equal’ in the eyes the law.


Really? ChangBai Ng would be surprised to hear she is black … and would Mario Rivera … perhaps non-white would be better?

“Person of color” means not only black folks, but any non-white person.


The idea behind hate crime sentencing isn’t “Oh, you think bad things, you go to jail!”. It’s the idea that crimes focused against a certain group don’t just hurt those who are involved but that they also send a chilling message to the rest of the community that “And I’ll be back for the rest of you.” It makes the rest of the group a side-victim to the original attacks. If he’d gone crazy and killed his parents there wouldn’t have been the implication that he was going to kill all parents. But since he sought out a gay bar and confirmed that it was a gay bar with the bartender before attacking, it leaves the message that the kid wants gays killed and he doesn’t care which gays it is. Had he not been caught/died, there would always be the fear that he’d come back for more, which would have a chilling effect on the gay community. There’s also the fear that more bigots will feel moved to act now that one has.

So it’s not “You think bad thing!” it’s “Your actions have a much wider impact than on just those involved and their families”.

The point is that, under hate crime laws, he will be sentenced based on his opinions. That is how hate crime laws work. Obviously, everyone agrees that swinging at people with a hatchet should not be protected as speech, but that’s not what txa1265 is saying.

I know that this is usually the rationale behind hate crime laws, but the laws themselves (which only protect specific groups) don’t bear this out.

Ah, ok. Now I see what you mean. When you put it that way, it seems kinda weird, however, this doesn’t bother me so much, as I don’t personally believe the complete freedom of opinion (or more specifically, the complete freedom to express any opinion) is beneficial for society. And I think that it’s worth pointing out that in this case the current system doesn’t penalize the offender for his opinions in any way until those opinions lead to negative actions. I think at that point giving a harsher sentence because it’s a hate crime can be likened (though it isn’t exactly equal) to pre-meditated murder having a harsher penalty than manslaughter.

It can’t be likened to that, as I pointed out before, because punishing someone for criminal intent (pre-meditated crimes vs. “heat of the moment” crimes) is not the same as punishing someone for something they believe. It can be likened to punishing someone because they are Baptist. And while you might say “You can’t punish people for being Baptist!”, it’s worth pointing out that in this case the current system doesn’t penalize the offender for his opinions in any way until those opinions lead to negative actions.

Just for the record, I’m not American, so I am discussing this in the general sense. What is applicable in your country may not be applicable in mine (both of them) :).

As far as I am concerned there’s little to separate slander and stating racist opinions. If I say “Ben Sones is a thief”, this is slandering you if I have nothing to show this is true. If I say “all blacks are thieves” then any black person who isn’t a thief is also having a false statement made about them. On an individual level the effect is less, but on a group level the effect is greater. Maybe I’ve not got the legal definitions down 100%, but I think I’ve got the general principle correct.

So you think that when a person assaults a gay it’s irrelevant for the judging process if, unlike Baptism, that person believes, or has an opinion, that all gays should be killed?

The difference, both in legal and general terms, is specificity. If you say “Ben Sones is a thief,” there is a chance that a reasonable person might accept that as the literal truth, suspecting that you have information that indicates that I am, in fact, a thief. This may, in turn, cause otherwise reasonable people to believe untrue things about me. And even that isn’t slander, legally (in my country, at least) unless I can demonstrate that those untrue beliefs have somehow caused me tangible harm.

If you say “all blacks are thieves,” any reasonable person would recongnize that statement as a baseless generalization and not assume that it is literally true. The only people likely to be swayed by that sort of statement are people who already share your prejudices.

That terms falls under “It might mean this, but it’s commonly perceived as that.”

Hispanics and Asians classify themselves as a “people of color”? I highly doubt that’s a regular occurence.