The very notion of a “hate crime” has always been something I’ve found ridiculous. To say if you assault someone it’s illegal, but if, unlike the gangster, you do it because it is personal, that’s more illegal. It would be strange, if it wasn’t so dangerous a notion.
I always wonder if the people who advance this idea ever read “1984,” because it seems they’ve never been introduced to the concept of the “Thought Police.” To say we are going to make a crime more illegal, based on what you were thinking while you committed it, goes right to the heart of what “1984” was warning us against. The notion that not only is the government going to concern itself with what we do, but in the interests of a state that adheres to the ideology those in power espouse, we are also going to be monitored for what we think.
If you think I’m reading into what this legislation intends, you’re right. I’m reading the words Ms. Emblem wrote in her commentary: “There is a fine line distinction between ‘free speech’ and hate speech … ” What she is saying is that free speech is fine, but hate speech needs to be legislated out of existence. Only one problem: who gets to decide what is acceptable? Ms. Emblem would tell you it’s “speech designed to incite violence against people.” But that’s already illegal. You’re not allowed to threaten other people if the threat is credible, and you’re not allowed to incite others to violence. What Ms. Emblem, and all others like her, would really like to do, is make it illegal for you to even think these objectionable thoughts.
The reason ideas like this don’t generate more resistance is because the thoughts they go after first are the ones that have no constituency that will fight for them. If you think racists are evil and should be silenced, who’s going to argue with you? But what if you think we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq? Well then you must be in league with Saddam Hussein, and you should be silenced. The point is, there can be no answer to “who gets to decide what is acceptable?” The writers of our constitution recognized this. Their answer was the right of free speech. Not free speech as long as no one is offended by what you say. As long as no one is offended by what you think. Just the opposite, the constitution encourages dissent, because dissent inspires thought, and debate, and intelligent decision-making. While I may not agree with the message of the Westboro Baptist Church, their hate-filled protests encourage us to examine our own beliefs, ask ourselves why we think what we think, and then do something about it. In an effort to distance ourselves from them, maybe we’re just a little more tolerant of those whose lifestyle we might otherwise condemn.
First they came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
Then they came for the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
Then they came for the trade unionists, I remained silent; I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I was not a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
— Martin Niemöller
Now is the time to speak out against this idea of “hate speech.” Don’t let Ms. Emblem, or anyone else, decide what it is acceptable for you to think, or feel, or say, offensive or otherwise. Ms. Emblem had it right when she said “Creating fear and distrust strikes at the soul of liberty.” What she doesn’t grasp, however, is that trying to control people’s thoughts is what creates the fear and distrust. That’s the answer Stalin, Mao, and Kim Jong Il would pursue. But it is only through a truly free exchange of words, ideas, and concepts, offensive and otherwise, without fear, do we truly guarantee ourselves, all of us, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Michael Donovan is a Vista resident.