April 16, 2024

Why Hate Crime Laws Are Dangerous

What happens when police lose part of their moral authority?

Something like that has been happening in England in the last several years. And it could have been an important factor in their initial ineffectiveness a couple months ago in quelling some of the summer riots.

A major part of the problem is hate crime laws.

Hate crime laws may sound well-intentioned. But in reality they are like America’s failed Prohibition law—they turn ordinary citizens into criminals.

Under strict hate crime laws, all someone has to do is complain that they’ve been “insulted,” and suddenly free speech rights are out the window.

Take a recent example in England within the last several weeks. At a Christian coffeehouse, police came in to warn the proprietors that they are no longer allowed to air “hate” crime speech.

What is the hate crime speech? They had an audio/video presentation of the New Testament playing on a monitor. Actually, just the written word was on the monitor. The proprietor had the audio off.

The New Testament—which gave us the Golden Rule and the parable of the Good Samaritan, the one which teaches that we should love our neighbor as ourselves—is “hate” speech?

Following Christ’s Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—precludes uttering true hate speech. The problem is that some people define “hate speech” as calling something sinful, for example, homosexuality or pre-marital sex.

So on September 19, the police came into the Salt & Light Coffee House in Blackpool in northwestern England to investigate a complaint that the coffeehouse was guilty of “insulting” and “homophobic” speech. In other words, hate speech.

The owner, Jamie Murray, told the Christian Institute (which fights for religious liberty in England), “I couldn’t believe the police were saying I can’t display the Bible. The officers were not very polite. In fact, they were quite aggressive. It felt like an interrogation.”

So now England is at the place where it’s illegal for the New Testament to be heard (or seen) in public? An obvious exception would be in the case of some street preacher with a stool at Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon at Speakers’ Corner, where virtually anybody can say virtually anything, provided they have a stool.

What’s next? Interfering with what’s said from the pulpit?

That may sound far-fetched, but I keep thinking of a recent example from a small church in an obscure part of Sweden, where they too have hate speech laws. The pastor lovingly said in his Sunday sermon what the Bible says about homosexuality—including the fact that gays can find redemption and change through the Gospel.

A tape of his sermon was sent to the police, who then listened to it and determined that he had indeed committed a hate crime for saying homosexual conduct is sin. He was actually sentenced to jail, but spared from prison only when attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, an American religious liberties legal group, went over to Sweden and successfully defended his case.

When I was in England two years ago, I met Mike Judge, head of communications for the Christian Institute, the very organization that is now helping Mr. Murray of the Salt & Light Coffee Shop.

Mike told me, “Right now in Great Britain, we are seeing Christians losing their jobs; we are seeing young children being told off at school for mentioning their faith; we are seeing the police interviewing Christians who express their faith on ethical issues and in the public sphere.”

Because of the Christian Institute getting involved in the coffeehouse case, police came back eight days later and offered a partial apology, in particular for the “manner” of their investigation. Mr. Murray said he forgives them, but he’s still disturbed that this issue could even come up in the first place.

How is it that a Christian establishment is not free to teach the New Testament?

It’s the law against “hate speech” itself that is the problem. Laws that try to criminalize political incorrectness simply make ordinary people with traditional values law-breakers.

Barrister Paul Diamond has been fighting for religious liberty in England for the last twenty years or so. He told me, “Christians are being arrested. Christian are extremely fearful. They know that if they say anything about homosexuality publicly, they will be arrested by the police.”

And what has been the net effect of this liberal agenda to use the police as enforcers of speech codes? A disrespect for the police among many law-abiding citizens.

I got to interview Paul Diamond for a radio program when he was in the U.S. several weeks ago (ironically on the very day the police barged into the coffee shop).

I asked Paul about the recent riots, and he said part of the initial ineffectiveness of the police is that they have alienated so many upstanding citizens because of these hate speech laws.

He said, “the police in Britain are actually becoming very disliked and obviously their constituency are the middle classes. And for years our police have been enforcing hate crimes and thought crimes—if you said the “wrong” thing—or arresting Christian preachers on the street for the slightest word of the Gospel. Our police have been doing that. The middle classes don’t like them anymore.”

Hopefully, our First Amendment should protect us from this kind of thing in America, but you never know these days with so much political correctness run amok.