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Hate Crimes and the Religious Right’s Tortured Logic

October 30, 2009

777px-gay_flag_svgI generally like and respect Michael Medved, but sometimes his arguments are downright irresponsible. Medved had CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund Alan Sears on his program yesterday to discuss the Hate Crimes Bill signed by President Obama on Wednesday. Sears and Medved agree that the Hate Crimes Bill, which has made it a federal offense to assault an individual on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, is both unnecessary and an infringement on First Amendment rights. Their point is that violent assaults of all stripes are already punishable under both federal and state laws. Even in the absence of the bill, all of the perpetrators of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. murders are already serving life sentences. Rather, the Hate Crimes Bill serves (according to Medved and Sears) as a liberal ploy to punish any and all disapproval of homosexuality, a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of conservative Christians.

Is this the best defense the religious right can muster for its anti-gay stance? The Catechism of the Catholic Church may be bigoted in its condemnation of homosexuality (I don’t think so), but it at least has the decency to add that gay people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” The Catechism, in other words, draws a sharp distinction between the thoughts of someone who disapproves of homosexual acts and the thoughts of someone who hates gays. Sears and Medved, by contrast, invite us to compare the thoughts of hate crime perpetrators and the views of the religious Right. By passing the Hate Crimes Bill, the Left has made the thoughts – rather than the mere actions — of those who commit violence against gays a punishable offense. If we don’t act now, Sears and Medved insinuate, the Left will soon make our thoughts punishable. There is, in other words, a slippery slope from punishing hateful thoughts toward gay people to punishing the disapproval of homosexuality.

Perhaps Sears and Medved would argue that the slippery slope exists only in the minds of benighted Leftists, and not in point of fact. If so, why not support the Hate Crime Bill? Or, if you are going to reject it, why not simply point out that it is unnecessary, given current laws? Sears’ impassioned First Amendment plea implies, rather – whether intentionally or not – that the thoughts of hate crime perpetrators do not differ radically from the thoughts of conservative Christian ministers. Yikes!

To be perfectly clear, I am not arguing that Sears or Medved hates gay people. What I am arguing is that Sears and Medved are saying that they hate gay people. Surely they have a First Amendment right to their views, but let’s hope Sears and Medved don’t really mean what they seem to be saying. (I am nearly certain that Medved doesn’t)

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