Like a bad penny, the proposed federal “hate crimes” law just keeps coming back.

It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence that crimes against homosexuals are prosecuted any less vigorously than crimes against other victims. It doesn’t matter that actual crimes against homosexuals have declined in recent years.

Liberal GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch, Utah, and Gordon Smith, Ore., are planning to bring up a new version of the Kennedy-Smith federal “hate crimes” law, which has been filed as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.

Proponents of the Hatch-Smith bill insist that their version seeks to empower state officials to better handle “hate crimes” and that it mitigates the more radical aspects of the Kennedy-Smith bill. But it still endorses the concept of “hate crimes,” greatly expands federal power and will lead inevitably to “thought crimes.”

Let’s agree that we’re all against hate and abuse of anybody. Nobody in America should live in fear. That is what the criminal law is for, and there is no evidence that it is not working. But “hate crime” laws are fraught with the possibilities of abuse.

Such laws create a multi-tiered system of justice, in which some crime victims’ cases are taken more seriously than others, thus violating the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Seeking federal dollars, police and prosecutors will define more and more cases as “hate crimes.” Expect such crimes to soar. After California enacted a “hate crimes” law, incidents went from 75 to 2,052 in four years.

In a media- and dollar-driven situation, your grandmother’s mugging will not receive as much attention as the “hate crime” committed against a homosexual. Both victims deserve the full protection of the law, but the one that snags the headlines will get more of it.

All citizens who treasure freedom and the fundamental protections afforded by our legal system should see the latest drive for a federal “hate crimes” law for what it is: a sop to the homosexual lobby, fresh from its victory in Massachusetts, where weddings no longer require a bride.

But the real danger of “hate crime” laws is that they criminalize thoughts and beliefs. The law should concern itself only with actions. Prosecutors must prove intent, but examining underlying beliefs goes far beyond that.

Let’s go to the bottom line: The federal “hate crimes” bill lays the groundwork for persecution of Christians in this country.

Homosexual activists have redefined any opposition to homosexuality as “hate speech.” Laws already criminalize speech that incites violence. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which any incident involving a homosexual can be blamed on people who have publicly opposed homosexual activism.

Imagine what the activists could have done with a “hate crimes” law in 1998, when Matthew Shepard was beaten to death by two bar-hopping thugs in Wyoming. Everybody from Katie Couric to the San Francisco city supervisors blamed the killing on a “climate of hate” fomented by conservative Christians. Their evidence was newspaper ads from the “Truth in Love” campaign, in which former homosexuals told their stories of hope and redemption. Pure hate, according to the liberal chattering classes. Now they want to put teeth behind their charges.

Because of the publicity surrounding Mathew Shepherd’s death, the state spent a small fortune prosecuting the case and handling media. By contrast, the rape and murder of 8-year-old Kristin Lamb, whose body was found in a landfill that same year, did not burden the state in the same way. Should Mr. Shepherd’s killers receive justice? Absolutely. And they did. But Kristin’s case should be at least as important and disturbing.

“Hate crime” tabulation can be quite misleading. Even though crimes based on religion constitute the second-highest category, according to the FBI, many such crimes go unreported. Some property crimes against churches are listed merely as “vandalism,” not as “hate crimes.”

In Tulsa, for instance, someone wrote the words “kill” and “death” on the walls of a Catholic elementary school. According to civil-rights attorney Leah Farish, the perpetrator also wrote “messages referring to devils and to sex with Christian girls. Pentagrams and the number 666 appeared as well. But the police said, ‘It is not a hate crime per se. In order for it to be a hate crime, it has to be an act of malicious intimidation.'”

In Cleveland, Farish notes, shots were fired at a synagogue, “but these were not reported as hate crimes either.” Can you feel the love yet?

A “hate crimes” law can lead to “thought crime” as is found in totalitarian countries and increasingly in Western nations that have fallen into the trap.

In Canada and Sweden, it is now a “hate crime” to criticize homosexuality in any fashion. Canadian broadcasters are forbidden to air any critical discussion of homosexuality. Private citizens and public officials have been hauled before “human rights” commissions and threatened with fines and jail time. In Sweden, a pastor was arrested at his church after he read Bible verses about homosexuality.

The “gay” lobby is frank about its desire to persecute Christians in America in just the same way, and this “hate crimes” bill is a key step in that strategy.

During the Supreme Court hearings in 2000 on the Boy Scout case, pro-life Rev. Rob Schenk was sitting in the audience next to the White House liaison for “gay” issues. Thinking the pastor was a fellow liberal, the woman whispered, “We’re not going to win this case, but that’s OK. Once we get ‘hate crime’ laws on the books, we’re going to go after the Scouts and all the other bigots.”

This isn’t a slippery slope; it’s a luge ride toward totalitarianism.

If you value the freedom to speak our minds, you might want to let public officials know in no uncertain terms how you feel about politicians who aid and abet the effort to create “thought crimes.”

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.

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