Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Wording Matters

As the title suggests, "Adventures of a Christian Collegian" is a personal blog about my experiences as a conservative Christian on a college campus...who happens to experience same-sex attraction. It is not a political blog, nor should it be taken as such. However, I have always had a big interest in politics, and I have pretty defined opinions about current issues. I consider myself a classical liberal. As such, I am all about limiting the government's intrusion into the freedoms of Americans. I consider "hate crimes" legislation to be such an intrusion, because it prosecutes the thoughts of the criminal instead of the acts. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't care if you kill me because I'm gay or kill me because you want my iPod. Either way, I want you to rot in jail for the rest of your life.

That being said, I am also a big fan of truth. I don't care what your views are; if you can't defend them honestly, don't defend them at all. This value of mine is why I am taking a short break from completely personal posts and doing something political for a change. I hope you'll all bear with me. I worked hard on this post, and it's long. Luckily, I had plenty of time to do it since I don't have any exams until Friday (turns out I already have an A in Spanish and don't have to take the final! ¡Eso es maravilloso!)

The theme of this post is that wording matters. In the exact same way that tone of voice matters when speaking, words chosen (or not chosen) are important indicators of an author's motives, personal views, and target audience. Therefore, they should be chosen with extreme caution and care. In personal posts such as the ones I usually write, it doesn't matter as much. There are few (if any) objective facts that I need to be mindful of when writing about my feelings on a particular topic. But if I was writing about the actions of another, I would do everything in my power to make my words as accurate and clear as possible.

Gary Bauer does not seem to have the same ethic regarding that, or at least the person who wrote this article, which is found on his End of Day website, does not. I originally found the article on Randy Thomas' blog, and I was not able to find it anywhere else in its full form. Therefore, I want to make it clear now that the following is not a critique of Randy Thomas. As stated before, Randy is someone that I deeply respect despite our disagreements, and though he did post the article, he is not the author and thus is not the target of my criticisms.

The article is an example of the many that can be found concerning H.R. 1592: legislation that is meant to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes (in the same way that race and religion are currently protected classes). H.R. 1592 is accompanied by a similar bill being passed through the Senate by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon). Actually, the article omits Smith's involvement with the bill, but we'll get to lies of omission later. After establishing this, the article makes its first of several dubious statements by bringing up the murder of Matthew Shepard:

"Kennedy’s bill would have done absolutely nothing to save Matthew Shepherd’s [sic] life, which was tragically taken in a drug-related robbery."

Sneaky, isn't it? The whole "drug-related robbery" phrase is inserted as fact. It doesn't say a "possible" or "speculated" drug-related robbery. It says "drug-related robbery." However, this goes against the testimony from the trial, which stated that neither Russell Henderson nor Aaron McKinney (Shepard's murderers) were on drugs at the time of the murder. Speculation that they were on methamphetamine at the time did not appear until five years after their conviction. And even then, the phrase "drug-related robbery" is misleading. To the casual reader, it sounds as though Shepard was taking drugs, or that the murder was a drug deal gone wrong. It wasn't. At the very most, his murderers were on drugs at the time of the crime. That doesn't make it "drug-related" any more than a drunk man robbing a gas station is "alcohol-related." Now, on to the second point:

"[T]he FBI’s analysis of hate crimes in 2005 revealed that only 177 out of 862,947 cases of aggravated assault were motivated by sexual orientation bias. That’s 0.000205 percent of all aggravated assaults in 2005."

This is actually true, and it's a valid reason why the federal government needs to stay out of hate crimes legislation. Oh, but I forget that the article doesn't say anything about that. It only speaks out against the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. If we're going to argue that the means don't justify the end, lets compare the total number of hate crimes in 2006 to the total number of aggravated assaults.

Total aggravated assaults: 862,947
Total number of hate crimes: 8,804
8,804/862,947 = 1.02%

The number of hate crimes is still minuscule compared to the number of assaults in general. So, why stop with blocking H.R. 1592? Can't we go ahead and try to get rid of all hate crimes legislation, including that which includes race and religion? After all, there certainly doesn't seem to be a need for it. I know several conservatives (including Randy Thomas) agree with me here, but I find it odd that they were not concerned about hate crimes legislation until the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity were suggested. On to my third point:

"They [Conservative Republicans] offered more than a dozen amendments in committee that would have added pregnant women, members of the military, police officers, babies in the womb and senior citizens to the bill’s list of protected classes of citizens. The liberal majority voted them all down."

This is probably the most outrageous of all the statements made, in part because of the pure simplicity of it. Read it thoroughly. The author of the article is pretty much saying that liberals don't care about pregnant women, members of the military, police officers, senior citizens, and babies in the womb (actually, seeing as I'm pro-life and most liberals aren't, that might have merit). However, it's not like these amendments were shot down without good reasons.

For example, when the amendment proposing the inclusion of pregnant women to the list of protected classes was put on the floor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) cited that her own proposed bi-partisan Motherhood Protection Act covers them, while Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) had this to say:

"That is a gender crime. Gender is covered in this legislation. And so, frankly, I believe that the gentleman [Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia)] is trying to make more of a point than is necessary."

Gender is covered by the legislation. Only a woman can get pregnant. Therefore, if a pregnant woman was targeted because she was a pregnant woman, it's the same as saying that she was targeted because she was a woman. Also, let's remember that hate crimes legislation does not protect particular classes just because they are particular classes. If a black man is killed, it has to be proven that he was killed because he was black to be considered a hate crime. When the Family Research Council makes claims like this: "The bill is most notable for the millions of Americans it leaves out, meaning if you or I are a victim of a violent crime - we matter less," they are pretty much lying. If you are a victim of a violent crime based on the fact that you are white or Christian, you are already covered.

In a similar fashion, the amendment that proposed to add senior citizens to the list of protected classes was "shot down" for technical reasons. Per Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin):

"I would cite Title VII of the Older Americans Act, which Congress recently reauthorized, which protects and enhances the basic rights and benefits for vulnerable older people, and defines abuse, neglect and exploitation as they relate to the elderly.

Additionally, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of elder-abuse prevention law."

You see what I'm getting at here? It's not like these amendments were shot down by some evil liberal majority that hates pregnant ladies and old people. There were many technical reasons for the proposed amendments to be shot down (most of them revolving around the fact that the groups proposed were already protected). And if I may say so myself, some of the amendments were worded in such a way that it was pretty clear their proponents were simply testing the majority. On to my fifth point:

"Even worse, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) offered an amendment to clarify that nothing in the bill would infringe on a person’s religious liberty, but it was defeated on a party-line vote of 15-to-20."

There is a world more to that statement than meets the eye, and the fact that the author of this article could say it without mentioning the rest is very disheartening. Rep. Pence did indeed offer that amendment, and it was defeated. However, there's a good reason it was defeated, and that is because language similar to what he was offering had already been added to the bill in Rep. Artur Davis' (D-Alabama) amendment. From the Davis amendment:

"Nothing in this act or the amendments made by this act shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Read that again. Nothing in the act shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. You know, the Amendment that includes the religious freedoms that conservatives think are about to be blown to bits? Yeah, it's still there, and the amendment (proposed by a Democrat, no less!) actually makes sure people recognize that it's still there. Mike Pence himself helped to vote that amendment into the bill. His proposed amendment is actually more limiting than Davis', because he only mentions religious freedoms.

It's lies of omission like that that are the main problem with the media today. Everyone has their own spin. Nothing in the article was blatantly untrue, but several things were cast in such a light that it makes it look like our religious freedoms are about to be trampled and our First Amendment is about to be overturned. That simply isn't true. Pence's amendment was defeated because it was practically already part of the bill. The hate crimes legislation is not merely a Democrat-proposed bill, either. Gordon Smith is a Republican and a Mormon who backed the Federal Marriage Amendment. Yet he is backing the bill along with Senator Kennedy, a fact that is conveniently tossed aside.

Look, like I said I'm against H.R. 1592 and its Senate companion. However, there are plenty of philosophical and legal reasons to state my discontent without resorting to feeding off of people's paranoia. Actually, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Florida) made a great legal argument to not back the bill:

"Federal efforts to criminalize hate crimes cannot survive the federalism standards articulated by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in United States v. Morrison, struck down a prohibition on gender-motivated violence and specifically ruled that Congress has no power under the commerce clause or the 14th Amendment over "non-economic violent criminal conduct" that does not cross state lines."

Unless federalism is suddenly out of style (it never will be in my book) then I suggest conservatives start using that angle to argue against the bill. For one, it's honest. Lying, no matter how noble the perceived ends are, is never excusable. And Gary Bauer has some owning up to do for that ridiculously biased article. I hope no one is offended by this. I tried to get all my facts as straight as possible. If you need to check if I missed something, please read the transcript (PDF) of the House Committee on the Judiciary's meeting, from which the above Representatives' quotes are taken.

Update 5/4/07: This post has recently been placed on Ex-Gay Watch as a guest post by me. Check it out.

11 comments:

Amanda said...

Long, but worth reading! Thank you! It seems to me that this bill has turned a lot of folks into conspiracy theorists. Thank you for taking the time to spell it all out and show some of the spin being put on it.

Brandon said...

Good point, Jay. You're definitely right about people putting their own spin on things. I myself am against hate crimes legislation. It just seems a little pointless to me. After all, there are already laws against killing or abusing people. The thing this sort of legislation seems to be concerned the most about is "why" someone did those things. To me, that's a little irrelavent. If someone kills me because I'm gay, or kills me because they wanted my i-pod, either way I'd still be killed. I'd still be dead. Is it worse they killed me because I'm gay, or because they wanted my i-pod? I don't think it would really matter. The result is the same either way. This sort of legislation to me just seems to be an attempt at curbing how people think and feel. It comes across as a message that the "why" is more important than the result. I completely reject that. The crime shouldn't be worse just because it was committed against someone gay. And if people are truly concerned with wanting to change how people feel, then start by teaching others that everyone needs to be treated with dignity, repect, kindness, and understanding. "Do unto others as you would have done unto you". Perhaps we should do a better job getting that message out to people.

Well, I've said my peace now. Thanks for the post, Jay. I'm glad you brought some of the things you mentioned out in the light.

olive said...

I wanted to drop by an compliment you on your thoughtful and lengthy post. Out of the some odd 30 blogs posted against the bill, yours is the only one I've read so far that doesn't fall into the conspiracy spin.

I would say that from the "pro-bill" (liberal, pagan, straight) side, that the target of hate crime legislation is not to further protect certain victims from crime (which is why the statistics of how likely of all violent crimes hate crimes are is not what we say is a point of contention). Or really about "why" people commit hate crimes, but to pursue social remedy for the intended "externalities" produced by hate crimes themselves. The point is that hate crimes are attacks plus, which are intended to use the victim to effect a larger population. So it's not the thought, but the attempt to cause harm, just as if you attempted physical assult.

Regardless of different POV, you are certainly the kind of citizen that's an asset to any democracy. Cheers.

Matthew said...

I've lurked here for a little while, but I think I'll finally post something.

Jay, in theory you're right about hate crimes legislation. The violent *act* the bill covers are already covered by state laws.

The problem is that states and localities do not always have the resources to fully investigate and prosecute these crimes. Sometimes state and local officials are unwilling, for whatever reason, to pursue these cases. Sometimes the cost of pursuing them is crippling to a town. For example, after Matt Shepard was killed, the town had to lay off three police officers to pay for the trial.

The AGs of 31 states have asked for this bill so they can get federal help when they need it. I think they're in a good position to know if this is necessary.

I olive makes an interesting point. There are social externalities related to hate crimes. Those acts are often like terrorism in terms of intent. The goal is not merely to harm someone but to send a message to a wider community. Even if that message isn't intentional, it gets sent regardless. The government, at least in my view, has a compelling interest in doing what it can to limit that effect.

I'm a little concerned by your statement that hate crimes legislation punishes people for their thoughts. The bill makes it quite clear that it doesn't punish thoughts or words (even the ACLU endorsed the bill; it has never fully endorsed a hate crimes bill before). Words only matter if they are *directly* related to the criminal act (e.g. murder). Frankly, it seems a little silly to dismiss that as "thought crime." If that's thought crime, we've been punishing it forever. It is the intent behind an act that is the difference between the manslaughter and murder, and the different degrees of each.

I am a heck of a civil libertarian, and I frankly don't see any danger in this bill.

Moreover, since we've already had hate crimes legislation for over 30 years (covering race), I don't see any unique harm in expanding it to include women and sexual minorities.

Jay said...

Amanda and Brandon: Thanks!

Olive: The point is that hate crimes are attacks plus, which are intended to use the victim to effect a larger population.

I think this goes case by case. A bunch of frat boys beating up a gay man? Not trying to send a message, just being violent. KKK erecting a flaming cross on someone's lawn? Trying to send a message.

Either way, there are laws already on the books to prosecute those people. Assault, property damage, and threatening violence are all punishable. At the very least, hate crimes laws should not be federal and should be handled on a state-by-state basis. Thanks for stopping by.

Matthew: It seems to me, from what you said in your post, that there just isn't enough money to pursue crimes in general. What if Matthew Shepard had been straight, but was still murdered in a robbery? Would the town still have had to lay off three cops to pay for the trial?

If so, then the problem has nothing to do with hate crimes laws, but with the criminal justice system as a whole.

It is the intent behind an act that is the difference between the manslaughter and murder, and the different degrees of each.

That's true. And a murder that is provoked by nothing more than the victim's race or sexual orientation is especially heinous, and thus should be prosecuted as first degree.

I agree that if we must have hate crimes laws, we might as well expand them to include women and sexual minorities. However, I am against hate crimes laws in general. Thanks for stopping by. Don't stay a lurker. :)

Brady said...

Hey Jay,

As I said over at XGW, great post! I disagree with your view of hate crimes legislation being unnecessary, but I understand it and respect your honest opposition to it.

You did a great job of picking Bauer's message apart, and I know you didn't want to get into Randy Thomas and Exodus, but in the most recent Exodus press release over at Randy's blog, Randy specifically mentions two fallacies that you cover here: First that ex-gays wouldn't get the same protection as gays, and second that religious liberties would be taken away (in spite of the amendment to the bill to the contrary).

As I've said to you before, I think Randy is a nice guy and has a good heart, and I'm not writing this as an anti-Randy Thomas post, but I think he should be addressed, just like Gary Bauer, when his statements are misleading.

Jay said...

Brady: I can't help but agree with you. People who repeat lies do need to be held accountable. Personally, I hate how the vast majority of Randy's recent posts concern blocking HR 1592. If he is concerned about reaching out to practicing homosexuals, he has to be smart enough to know that such bold opposition to hate crimes laws is not a good way to do it.

Personally, if it came down to compromising my political conservatism or reaching out to a gay friend, the conservatism would be gone in a second.

CLS said...

Totally with you. While people who lie are held accountable that accountability ought to be private not open to political interpretation. A crime is a crime period and should be punsihed as one. The thoughts of the person are not relevant and hate crime laws penalize people, not for the crime which is already punishable, but for the thoughts. Even bad thinking should be protected from state interference. Crimes ought not apply to thoughts.

That is the position Classically Liberal has taken. We are progay and profreedom.

Anonymous said...

I've just found your blog; thanks for the clear light you put on things. I wish that all americans were as insightful.

--Kengo Biddles

Cheryl of the Wilds of C said...

This is well written, Jay. I'm not familiar with American policies or politics but I can appreciate how you have articulated your thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to carefully choose your words.

Silus Grok said...

Nice write-up, Jay... even-handed and thoughtful.