(Friday’s Populist Capitalist Blog Post)

Governments legitimately regulate certain kinds of behavior: violent acts, theft, fraud, etc. The moment the government crosses over into criminalizing the words that come out of people’s mouths or thoughts in their minds, they have crossed into an area no government should ever venture.
This is the problem with “hate” crimes. In essence we are criminalizing thoughts and words by making a person’s words, driven by opinions and political beliefs, as reprehensible as they might be to many, a material factor in the degree of state involvement, in the seriousness of the charge, in the length of the sentence.

Speech is complex, meaning often impacted by content, tone, situation, personality, relationships. The list of factors is as long as people are different. Often a person will be pilloried in the press for what is characterized as an ethnic slur. A careful reading of the actual language used can lead many reasonable outside observers to question the characterization. A slip of the tongue? For sure. Insensitive? Often. Rude or boorish? Perhaps. But worthy of involvement of our legal system, civil or criminal? No way!

Want to know how silly it can get? Remember the “Hokey Pokey,” that cute little song?

“Put your right hand in,
Put your right hand out,
Put your right hand in and you wiggle all about.
Everything is okey dokey when you do the Hokey Pokey.
That is what the dance is all about.”

Some people believe the Hokey Pokey’s origin is 18th-century Puritans mocking the language of the Latin Mass. Based upon that, in 2008 the Catholic Church in Scotland, upset that soccer fans might be using the song as a taunt, floated the idea that the singing of the Hokey Pokey be prosecuted as a hate crime. (The New York Times, December 3, 2009, “Robert Degen, Who Had a Hand in the Hokey Pokey, Dies at 104.”)

So be careful what you say or think. You never know when your idle musings may trigger someone else’s festering emotional wounds with you landing in jail. Or you could become like Prita Mulyasari, a 32-year-old mother of two who ended up in a jail cell with murderers and facing a 6-year sentence for the “crime” of speaking up about her medical treatment at an Indonesian hospital. Hey, it might have been her honest opinion but the doctors had their feelings hurt! (The New York Times, December 5, 2009, “Trapped Inside a Broken Judicial System.”)

We all feel for every victim of social injustice, past or present. It’s just that stifling free speech is a terribly misguided remedy. Regulating speech puts government on a fast slippery slope to totalitarianism. Who has the right to say what is proper or not, who guards the guardians?

I close with this powerful quote: “Hate is only foiled when the hated are immune to the bigot’s power, not when the haters are punished. A hater cannot psychologically wound if a victim cannot be psychologically wounded. And that immunity to hurt can never be given; it can only be achieved.” — Andrew Sullivan, eclectic Roman Catholic gay British blogger, frequent contributor to The Atlantic magazine (his articles had 40,000,000 on-line views his first year), former editor of The New Republic, author of five books. (Source: Wikipedia.)