Clinton’s proposed federal hate crime legislation will punish “thought crime,” warn Libertarians

Libertarian Party Press Release
26 November 1997

2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100
Washington DC 20037
For release: November 26, 1997
For additional information:
George Getz, Deputy Director of Communications
Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222

Clinton’s proposed federal hate crime legislation will punish “thought crime,” warn Libertarians

WASHINGTON, DC — Do bigots have First Amendment rights?

Bill Clinton apparently doesn’t think so — and that’s why he wants to punish them with new “hate crime” legislation, the Libertarian Party said today.

“Bigotry is despicable, but it shouldn’t be illegal,” said Steve Dasbach, the party’s national chairman. “When politicians start punishing people for what they think — not for what they do — they create a chilling new category of wrongdoing: Thought crimes.”

Dasbach’s comments came as Clinton proposed an expansion of federal “hate crimes” legislation to include criminal acts committed because of someone’s gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

Current hate crime law already allows prosecutors to impose additional penalties for crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion, or ethnic background.

“Every violent crime is a hate crime, and is already covered by existing laws,” Dasbach said. “Law enforcement should focus on stopping crimes in general — not punishing crimes which happen to be politically incorrect.”

However, just discussing violent “hate crimes” masks the real issue, said Dasbach.

“The fact is, so-called federal hate crimes don’t require violence — just unpopular opinions,” he said. “In 1995, for example, 57% of the reported hate crimes were verbal. Those verbal comments may have been repugnant, or malicious, or offensive — but they shouldn’t be crimes. If the First Amendment protects anything, it protects the right of Americans to hold and express opinions that are repugnant, or malicious, or offensive.”

Interestingly, Clinton’s call for more hate crime legislation comes at the same time that a new FBI report reveals that violent crime has actually declined by 4% since last year, Dasbach pointed out.

“Real crime is going down — so the president is busy inventing new crimes,” he said. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to continue to apprehend and punish all violent criminals — no matter what their criminal motivation is? After all, law enforcement’s job is to prosecute criminals, not to improve their character.”

Eventually, Dasbach predicted, Americans will realize that we don’t need new hate crime legislation to fight crime.

“We all want to live in an America where no one has to fear crimes of violence,” he said. “Any thug who attacks or kills another American or vandalizes their property because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation should be apprehended and punished. Violence against innocent people should never be tolerated.

“But that’s true whether a criminal commits a crime based on greed, aggression, general misanthropy — or a particular bias against one group of people,” said Dasbach. “Americans want effective law enforcement, not cheap hate-crime symbolism. And Americans need protection from murder, rape, and robbery — not from name-calling.”

In short, said Dasbach, “Politicians should get out of the business of punishing people for impure thoughts — and recognize that hate crime legislation is actually a hate crime against the First Amendment.”

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