Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Widespread Panic: Why We Need Hate Crimes Legislation

Hate crimes cause wide spread panic and fear. Christians must work to check such fears with peace and hope. Special legislation recognizing these fear mongering crimes is one way to oppose such terror.

Compared to other crimes, hate crimes are perpetrated because of the identity of the victim, whether their race, sexual identity, color, national origin, or religion. And as a result, there is more than the individual victim of the individual act of hate. All people of that particular group are affected. They must live in fear that they might become victims solely because of who they are.

Hate crime is terrorism. This is perhaps the best example to illumine the seriousness with which we must take hate crime. In the events of September 11th, thousands of Americans were murdered because of their identity, because of who they were. And yet, they were not the only victims. Rather the whole United States, Americans everywhere, were inflicted with terror and live in fear, still to this day, because of this crime of hate.

Hate crimes based on race, sexual identity, color, or religion act in the same way. Hate crimes inflict unchecked fear and terror in the populations that see themselves aligned with these groups. They cause wide spread emotional damage. They cause people to fear because of who they are, because of how they were made.

In the face of such anxiety and fear, Christians must work for peace and hope. Like the God who created life and order out of the primordial chaos, Christians must work to bring life and peace against fear and terror. Laws specifically against hate crimes are one way of doing so.

Christians must take very seriously crimes perpetrated because of someone’s deeply embedded identity. In our creation stories we claim that humanity was created in the image of God. There is a unity with all of humanity being made in the image of God. Perhaps there will come a day when there will be no need for specific hate crime laws. That day will come when we truly recognize our unity, when all of humanity feels threatened by violence anywhere. We must recognize our common humanity, that we are all made in the image of our creator. And that violence anywhere is a threat against humanity everywhere.

But that day has not arrived. Here on the south side of Chicago, school children are continuing to die in the streets. Fear and anxiety spreads uncheck amongst the public school children of this city. And yet this violence is seen only as a problem to be solved, not as a threat against us all. Currently, that story repeats itself; here in Cook County and around the world. Until the day comes when we are just as aghast by crimes against the other as with crimes against ourselves, we need hate crime legislation.


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