The Human Rights Campaign, a pro-homosexual organization, has accused the Family Research Council of lying about the issue of Thought Crimes (i.e., so-called hate crimes), under which offenders are punished once for their actions and then again for the politically incorrect thoughts they were thinking while committing the action.

HRC President Joe Solmonese says FRC is lying in saying that America doesnt have a federal hate crimes law. Actually, a recent FRC paper carefully explains that there are two federal laws related to so-called hate crimesa 1990 law which mandates the collection of statistics on them, and a 1994 law which provides for sentence enhancement (higher penalties) for existing federal offenses motivated by bias. HRC contends, however, that we have had a federal hate crimes law since 1969, citing the United States Code at 18 U.S.C. 245.

Actually, 18 U.S.C. 245 is not a hate crimes law at all. Instead, it is an extension of the civil rights laws, making it a crime to interfere with someone on account of race, color, religion, or national origin when they are engaged in certain specific activities that are protected under civil rights laws. If you look it up, this section of the code is under Chapter 13, titled "Civil Rights," and Section 245 is titled "Federally Protected Activities." The term "hate crime" never appears in 18 U.S.C. 245.

For example, the civil rights laws say that a person cannot be denied the right to attend public school on account of race. Therefore, if a white person beats up a black person outside a school in order to prevent him from enrolling in that school, that is a violation of 18 U.S.C. 245. This is not really a hate crimes law, because the central idea is not simply to protect victims whose assailants think certain specific thoughts about them (as in Thought Crime/hate crime laws), but to protect the exercise of certain rights under the civil rights laws (i.e., attending public school). Creating protections based on the characteristics of the victim alone (i.e., a Thought Crime or hate crime law) is much broader than simply protecting certain activitiesso much broader as to fall in a completely different category.

Solmonese is actually right in saying that H.R.1592, this years version of Thought Crimes in the U.S. House, would only create new, direct federal prosecution of cases in which someone willfully causes bodily injury or attempts to cause bodily injury because of certain characteristics of the victim. But this is an entirely new category of offense under federal law, not just an expansion of existing protected classes, as Solmonese implies.

In fact, Joe Solmonese might want to be cautious about implying that H.R. 1592 would merely add to the existing categories of protection under 18 U.S.C. 245because, contrary to his claims, 18 U.S.C. 245 actually includes penalties for "intimidation," even in the absence of a violent act. So citing it as precedent actually reinforces the argument that federal hate crime laws could threaten free speech and freedom of religion. Take this as an example: If a white person yelled at a black person, "You'd be better off not coming to this school!" he could potentially be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. 245 for "intimidation." So does Joe Solmonese think that if a Christian views a "gay pride" parade and yells at a homosexual, "You'd be better off if you stopped engaging in homosexual sex!" she should be charged with "intimidation" and prosecuted for a hate crime?

Thats roughly what has already happened in cases brought under similar laws in Sweden, England, Canada, and even in Philadelphia. With a hodgepodge of definitions of what a hate crime is, and with even the bills leading advocate confused about what it would do, it is no wonder that many conservatives view H.R. 1592s ostensible limitation to bodily injury cases as a rather thin reed on which to rest the claim that Thought Crime laws pose no threat to freedom of speech or of religion.