H.R. 1913 (Hate Crimes)
April 29, 2009. Mr. Speaker: It comes down to this: Free societies punish acts. Authoritarian regimes punish opinions and thoughts.
The supporters of this bill speak of punishing violent acts – but we already punish those violent acts, as well we should. This measure calls for additional punishment not for the violent act itself but for the opinion behind the act.
Before we embarked down this path, the opinions of a criminal were irrelevant – it was the act that we proscribed and it was the act that we punished.
Many civil libertarians warned us back then that if we placed in the hands of government the ability to define what opinions it likes and doesn’t like – and then punished those opinions on top of the acts themselves – we would have started down a very slippery and dangerous slope.
That point was clearly illustrated when the committee voted down an amendment to include military personnel under the “hate crimes” law. The supporters of this measure have made it very clear that they are actively involved in singling out particular opinions for special protection and other opinions for special punishment – the very definition of inequality.
In his famous letter arguing for the separation of church and state, Thomas Jefferson said, “The legitimate powers of government reach actions and not opinions.”
This measure clearly exceeds the legitimate powers of government and takes us another step away from the concept of equal protection under law.