OPINION – Outcry over the failure of Sen. Steve Urquhart’s bill to enact Hate Crimes Amendments to Utah law is offering us a unique learning opportunity.
Hate crimes legislation has been a perennial effort these past few legislative sessions. Proponents have vowed to bring it back again and again until they get what they want.
This is less a matter of making a reasoned case for such legislation and more a matter of simply trying to wear the rest of us down. This places a unique opportunity before us to explore the foundational principles at stake.
It’s a prime chance to more closely examine the difference between law and legislation and the merits of free associations versus forced associations.
There is a significant difference between laws and legislation. Historically, law was the process of determining what is just. Laws were based upon reason and experience.
It’s only within fairly recent times that legislation has quietly displaced the laws that were once based upon reason and experience.
Paul Rosenberg explains why this distinction matters:
Legislation is the edict of politicians, and nothing more. Under legislation, reason and experience are not required. Politicians – whom nearly all of us hold in low regard – create this new law and can change it on a whim.
In our day, this trend has created an almost irresistible urge to solve every perceived problem with legislation.
There are two highly undesirable side effects that are perpetuated by this approach. The first is that it gives opportunistic politicians a stature they do not deserve as their solutions are inevitably imposed by force rather than adopted by reason. They know full well that their enforcers will punish us on command, without question.
Giving moral relevance to the edicts of men whom a clear majority of people do not even respect doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The second side effect is that people come to place legislated solutions above reality itself. They obey reflexively out of intimidation rather than out of respect for laws that are just.
This heavy-handed approach can hardly be considered in harmony with the concept of genuine liberty.
Frederic Bastiat warned of this when he wrote:
There are two principles between which there can be no compromise: liberty and coercion.
Legal and lawful are not the same thing. The politicians who control what is “legal” and what isn’t are busy enacting hundreds of new pieces of legislation every year with little regard to what is right and wrong.
Hate crime legislation claims to punish hatred by enacting more serious penalties if a person commits a crime that is believed to be motivated by hatred.
Remember that there is no criminal injury a person may do to another that is not already covered by an existing law. For hate crimes legislation to work as intended, the law must divide us into groups and then apportion enhanced “protection” based upon whether we belong to one of the groups that are explicitly named.
This flies in the face of the idea that we are all equal before the law.
Instead, this type of legislation institutionalizes our societal divisions. It pits us against one another as pressure groups seeking special legislation.
It seeks to force associations in the name of discouraging hate. This is a mistake.
Few things taint human relations like the act of forcing people together. On the other hand, when people are free to interact and associate without coercion, that’s when they learn to get along.
It has happened historically and it still happens in our day – right in our own towns. Even ancient hatreds tend to quietly disappear when we are left alone, in unforced conditions, to live as we wish.
The main reason this method is looked upon with disfavor today is that it robs power-seekers of the opportunity to divide and dominate us through force of law.
Beware of those who incite fear, anger, guilt or any other strong emotion to justify the enactment of legislation that substitutes the state’s force for our own reason. When we allow others to artificially divide us into forced groupings, the pack mentality takes over.
We tend to ignore the good and focus only on the bad in those who aren’t like us. This feeds the false status of the politicians who thrive on the various special interest groups competing for their attention and favors.
Hate cannot be solved by legislation.
When we voluntarily organize, cooperate and peacefully persuade others around common interests and goals, that’s when problems get solved.
We’re using natural law and higher laws rather than some politician’s edict to become civilized in the truest sense of the word.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Editor’s note on the legislation
The Hate Crimes Amendments bill, SB 107 during the 2016 General Session, failed to pass in the final phase of the Senate process March 2. The Senate vote included 11 in favor, 17 against and 1 not voting. From Southern Utah, Urquhart voted in favor of the bill; Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins and Evan Vickers voted against it.
Urquhart’s proposed joint resolution, SJR 13 during the 2016 General Session, proposes amendments to the Utah rules of evidence to protect the free speech rights of a person accused of hate crimes except as such expression relates specifically to the crime charged or is introduced for purposes of impeachment – i.e. to challenge the credibility of a witness. A substitute draft of the proposed joint resolution was filed in response to committee recommendation and unanimously passed second reading in the Senate on Feb. 26. As this column publishes, the proposed joint resolution remains circling on the Senate’s third reading calendar – the final phase of the Senate process. To become effective, the resolution requires a constitutional two-thirds vote of all members elected to each of the Senate and House and does not require signature by the governor. Utah’s General Session runs through Thursday.
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