Friday, October 9, 2009

Hate crimes and speech crimes

The House of Representatives has just passed a new  hate crimes bill, adding gays to the list of victims covered.

I have to say I'm against hate crime laws. It's too much like making thoughts illegal. I'm pretty much a first amendment absolutist, and I think punishing people for the actual crime (e.g., the beating) rather than the intent (because the victim was gay, black, white, whatever) is enough.

I'm even more against hate speech laws. While it is in very bad taste to call someone a (insert vilest ethnic or sexual slur you can think of), it shouldn't be illegal. That's what being a first amendment absolutist means, protecting vile speech.

If given a choice between allowing the nastiest speech I can imagine versus protecting the feelings of someone from being called a whatever, I'll allow the hateful speech every time. That's 'allow' in the legal sense of not putting somebody in jail for it; citizens have every right to shun a bigot, or to shout him down, or boycott him, but not to put him in jail. Stupid and evil thoughts and words are constitutionally protected. That's why Fox news is still in business.

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