Reprinted with permission of the Courier-Journal, and apologies for the format - I will try to fix later.
The Kentucky House last week demonstrated that sometimes the best intentions can lead to bad and unnecessary laws. Take House Bill 14, a bill to extend Kentucky’s hate crime law to first responders: police, firefighters and EMTs.
Currently, Kentucky’s hate crime statute provides for a judge to impose stiffer sentences for offenses committed against a person or property because of the victim’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. But not yet first responders.
First responders risk their lives to keep us safe. The overwhelming majority are people of integrity — legitimate heroes. They deserve our respect and gratitude. The desire to pass legislation that honors them is understandable.
But House Bill 14 undermines both freedom and equal protection. Hate crimes, in effect, make categories of special victims. It’s identity politics — affirmative action for victims.
Lumping people into broad categories dehumanizes those victims the government wants to protect by disregarding the uniqueness of each individual.
Moreover, the result is that a crime against any victim who doesn’t fall into one of the designated categories is punished less severely in comparison. That’s unfair. Over time, legislators will succumb to the temptation to redress that inequity by adding more categories of potential victims to hate crime laws.
Why, for example, should veterans not be included? Like first responders, they risked their lives for our freedom and safety. And some people hate the military.
Add enough categories to hate crime statutes and the designation becomes meaningless.
Like hate crimes generally, House Bill 14 is also superfluous. Kentucky already punishes crimes committed against police — without wading into factual questions about whether the perpetrator was motivated by hate for police officers.
All the law should and historically did require is proof of a wrongful act done intentionally, that is, not by accident. Whether the thief was motivated by hate of a particular group or just seized an opportunity should not matter: it’s still robbery.
We are free in this country to think bad thoughts. Not to condone bigotry against any group — including first responders — but we cannot criminalize hate. Unless and until the government is able to read minds, there is no way to enforce such a ban, except when a wrongful act occurs. That just brings us back to the redundancy of hate crimes.
Our Commonwealth has too many problems to waste time on redundant legislation.
And because we can’t read minds, the ability to prove hate will often rely on speech: a slur during the criminal act. That’s exactly what Moffett is warning against. We have a tradition in this country of protecting free speech, even when we abhor it.
Nor should hate be inferred just because a victim was black and an alleged perpetrator was white, or gay vs. straight or whatever. In seeking to legislate tolerance, hate crimes have the potential to actually foment more division. More hate.
The Black Lives Matter movement has tended to equate the vast majority of honorable first responders with a few who should be punished for misconduct. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted debate of House Bill 14. Opponents of the bill claimed that it could be used to transform resisting arrest into a felony.
Moffett explained that he abstained rather than vote against the bill because unlike Black Lives Matter, he did not see this as a racial issue. He’s correct. This is about freedom from government overreach.