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We All Need Protection from Hate Crimes

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We All Need Protection from Hate Crimes
Patricia Goldsmith

A group called Faith 2 Action is rallying the troops to shoot down the hate crime extension bill coming before the Senate, possibly as early as June 15. It's sending packets to senators urging them to defeat the bill on the grounds of free speech. The mailing contains a mugshot, fingerprints, a picture of cuffed hands, and the headline "Don't Make Me A Criminal."

Jane Folger of the ministry Faith 2 Action says the hate crimes bill passed by the House is aimed at pastors or anyone else who has the "audacity" to disagree with the homosexual agenda. "Mike is standing at a football bar, or he's standing at a restaurant, watching a game," she posits; "Bruce comes out of the restroom, and he's touching up his makeup. He's a cross-dresser with red nails and a five o'clock shadow. He comes out and hits on Mike. Maybe he puts his arm around him or maybe he brushes or puts his hand through his hair.

The average man would "maybe want to push off such unwelcome advances," Folger observes. However, she warns, "That, if you touch him, is a hate crime."

If you ever wondered why they call it homophobia, now you have an idea. What's next, a congressional mailing of coloring books illustrating the horrors of marriage equality?

It's beyond galling for those of us who actually believe in the First Amendment-even for hate speech-to hear it eulogized by those who gave up even their lip-service to it after 9/11, at about the same time that Ari Fleischer warned "watch what you do, watch what you say."

Those in Congress who warn ominously of thought crimes had no trouble retroactively legalizing the administration's illegal wholesale spying on Americans' telephone conversations and emails-activities which are not exactly conducive to the free and open expression of thoughts. "If you haven't done anything wrong," Bush apologists blandly assert, "you have nothing to fear." Free speech and privacy, as rights and goods in and of themselves, count as nothing.

How many Republicans who are now making impassioned arguments defending free speech came to the defense of the Dixie Chicks when their CDs were being pitched into bonfires and Clear Channel put them on a no-play list? How many work tirelessly to get "inappropriate" books off library shelves?

How many seconds pass before Bill O'Reilly tells an opponent to shut up and/or cuts her mic?

More importantly, how many movement conservatives protesting the new hate crime bill on free speech grounds heckled, harassed, and shouted down anyone who had the temerity to point out the administration's transparent lies as we marched into Iraq? Free speech doesn't mean much when you can't be heard. Or seen-how many objected to the creation of "free speech zones" that pen peaceful demonstrators far from the person or place they're protesting?

Far from believing in an equal, open exchange of ideas, the religious and political right believe very strongly that they have a lock on absolute truth; they disparage intellectual humility, tolerance, and evidence-based decision-making as "moral relativism." These attitudes have eroded public support for all human rights, not just the right to free speech.

Most notable in that regard is the Bush administration's notion of the unitary executive, which gives the president unprecedented power to declare citizens "enemy combatants" and strip them of all rights, including the right to physical safety-the ultimate penalty enhancement. During a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates, every one of them, with the honorable exception of Representative Ron Paul, eagerly endorsed the Guantanamo detention center and the torturing of suspects.

The audience's thunderous applause was chilling. Cruelty has become anonymous, sanitized: respectable.

The other argument conservatives make against penalty enhancements is that they undermine the concept of equal protection under the law. According to this thinking, it would be un-American to add an additional terrorist penalty to the sentences of abortion clinic bombers, for example-and as far as I know, no pro-life murderers have had such a penalty added to their sentences.

Yet when Judge James Cohn handed down a five-year sentence for Stephen Jordi for attempted fire-bombing of a reproductive health clinic, he added, "I have grave concerns regarding the future dangerousness of Mr. Jordi." The prosecution argued that the remorseless Jordi should be sentenced as a terrorist, which would have doubled his sentence, but Cohn argued that under the law domestic acts could not be considered terrorism.

Unfortunately, Cohn's legal scruples have not prevented an Oregon judge from sentencing two eco-activists as terrorists recently. This is the natural outcome of an FBI decision to designate environmental and animal rights activists as the leading domestic terrorist threats, in spite of the fact that there has never been a life lost in any action taken by those groups. Unlike abortion clinic bombers, environmental and animal activists have made the preservation of human life a priority.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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