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.

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