Sunday, September 06, 2009

What is a Hate Crime?

One of the key pieces of legislation the late Senator Edward Kennedy was working towards was hate-crime legislation named after Matthew Shepard, the gay college student brutally murdered in 1998. Now I could write a dozen blog posts about whether this crime was actually a bonified hate-crime, but you cannot excuse the brutality. For that alone, the crime should be treated differently. Much like the grisly murder of Brandon McClelland in Paris, Texas a year ago.

The argument against hate-crime legislation is that all crimes are motivated by hate, or at the very least, a disregard for fellow human beings and/or their possessions. But when I equate hate with crime, I think about the Apostle John who wrote, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer..." (1 John 3:15a) and with murder I think about Jesus' words, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22a) It's obvious how anger links to hate, and it's easy to see that not all crimes are motivated by either hate or anger. So I do think that not all crimes are created equal. (Though to be fair, all sins are equal in the eyes of God)

But the focus of hate-crimes are generally race-related and to a lesser extent sexual-orientation. But what is often lost in the culture-war debate is that religion is also included. With the Global War on Terrorism, it seems obvious that a practicing Muslim in this country could/would be at risk of a hate-crime. But Christians may also be victims. Look no further than the shootings a couple years ago in Colorado, or many church shooting since (the Amish school in Pennsylvania, the Crystal Cathedral, and so on). While we may be shocked by the magnitude of those cases, they don't compare with the case of Carol Daniels who was gruesomely murdered a week ago in Anadarko, Oklahoma. While the crime itself may sound 'typical' given the location and her ministry, the details are what are shocking. Yet I have yet to hear anyone refer to this as a hate-crime. How can it not be? She was obviously targeted because of her faith being found "behind the altar with her arms outstretched" in a mockery of the crucifixion.

Some argue that minorities or homosexuals do not need "special protection" afforded by hate-crime legislation. But I think a different way to look at it is punishing the crime reflecting the brutality of the crime. That applies to any and all victims, even Christians.

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