October 30, 2009

Hate Crimes: Killing Both Liberty and Equality

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable Friends:

Stunned. Appalled. Deeply saddened. Angry. I remember feeling all of these emotions as I watched the tragic story of Matthew Shepard’s brutal slaying unfold in the media back in 1998. It was with great satisfaction that I watched the conviction and incarceration of his murderers. I thought that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, I forgot that a terrible emotional tragedy often leads to a terrible legal tragedy.

Yesterday, a friend called to gush happily that President Obama just signed new hate crimes legislation into law, which includes sexual orientation in its protections. He was surprised that I did not share his enthusiasm and wondered how someone who supports gay rights could fail to be pleased by this outcome. In truth, I support equal rights for all individuals. I believe every individual has the right to determine the nature and type of their intimate relations, their associations, and how to use and dispose of their own property without government interference. Because of this, I have often supported gay rights efforts. However, what right does hate crimes legislation protect?

Hate crimes legislation does not protect any right whatsoever. On the contrary, it is a prohibition. But what exactly does it prohibit? Certainly, it does not prohibit any action. Indeed, we already have a comprehensive body of law prohibiting assault, battery, murder, rape, et cetera. Hate crimes legislation does not add to this list. Rather, it criminalizes the thoughts of the defendant committing these already established crimes.

My honorable friend argued that our legal system already imposes greater or lesser punishments based on a defendant’s mental state, so I should not be overly concerned with this addition to our legal process. This is not entirely accurate, though. Consider the following two cases:

In the first case, John and Eric are playing hockey. At the end of the game, John manages to steal the puck right out from under Eric’s nose and score the winning goal. In a fit of blind rage, Eric leaps upon John and beats him to death with his hockey stick.

In the second case, John and Eric have just attended a lively Political Science class at their college, where John expressed several views Eric detested. Determining that John should be taught a lesson, Eric hid in some bushes and ambushed John as he walked back to his apartment. He then proceeded to beat John to death.

Under our legal system, Eric committed murder in both of these cases. However, in the first case, he flew into a blind rage where passion, not reason, guided his actions. Consequently, we impose a lesser penalty than in the second case, where he clearly plotted the crime and intended to commit murder. Thus, our legal system judges the defendant’s mental state of intent. We do not normally criminalize his thoughts.

Now consider the same two cases, but assume that John is gay and Eric is homophobic. Has anything really changed? Is John any more dead, or Eric any guiltier of murder than in the first two cases? No. Under hate crimes laws, however, Eric is guilty of having thoughts and values the government finds objectionable, and so his punishment is increased. This is why hate crimes legislation is so dangerous. It presumes to regulate that which should be beyond the reach of any government: our thoughts and values. That is not where the danger ends, though. Perversely, hate crimes legislation also means that, as a gay man, John’s life is more valuable to society than the lives of other men who may be straight, and thus do not share John’s increased legal protections. This is not Justice. It is patently immoral.

A society of equals cannot exist when the laws unequally value lives. A free society cannot exist where a government has the right to criminalize thought. While I agree that homophobic people are ridiculously small minded and hateful, I cannot bring myself to criminalize their thoughts and values on that subject. I remember all too well the days when homosexuals and anyone sympathetic to them was viewed by governments and society as perverse, deviant, and indeed, criminal. This reasoning applies to any hate crimes legislation, whether it is intended to protect race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation. The right to determine ones own values and thoughts, however objectionable others may find them, is fundamentally necessary to maintain a free society and public discourse. Contrary to what my honorable friend mistakenly believed, anyone who supports gay rights, or indeed any individual rights, should not be celebrating the expansion of hate crimes legislation; they should be trying to repeal these legal abominations entirely.

No group of people can gain acceptance through force of law. They only succeed in destroying their own liberties and becoming the oppressors they once fought. They should instead endeavor to maintain equal rights for all, and rely on persuasion to alter the opinion of their fellow citizens.

If there is such a thing as a Devil, I doubt he ever appears in flames with cloven hooves and frightening horns. It seems to me he would be beautiful and seemingly benign. In our society, the greatest devil of all is the government. Hundreds of smiling men and women, in both Congress and the executive branch, frequently offer to solve all our problems with a seemingly benign law or regulation. All it costs is our liberty and equality, the soul of the United States.

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October 20, 2009

Meghann Silverthorn for Douglas County School Board

By Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.

Honorable friends:

This election cycle, the People’s Press Collective has fielded one of its own as a candidate. Meghann Campos Silverthorn, a long time writer for the PPC and Slapstick Politics, is campaigning to serve on the Douglas County Board of Education here in Colorado.

Over the years, I have come to view most candidates with a rather jaundiced eye. I can scarcely count the number of times I have been disappointed. No matter what principles candidates draw their sound bites from, their underlying motivation always seems to be self aggrandizement—and principles are the first things they sacrifice in their drive to be popular, powerful, bipartisan, a compromise broker, or whatever else they envision for themselves. I know I am not alone when I see the latest political ads, chuckle, and file them appropriately in my wastepaper basket. This is the type of politics we have all come to expect. Thus, I was completely stunned when my old friend, Meghann Silverthorn dropped into my parlor to tell me that she intended to run for school board. I do believe I dropped my crumpet, which of course fell straight into my tea and made a right mess. People should really give warnings before making the world stand on its head.

You see, Meghann Silverthorn is not your average politician. Everything about her is unique. The daughter of diplomats, she grew up in embassies and schools all around the world. Her early life reads much like an adventuresome travel journal. Some of those adventures are splendid and exciting. Others, however, are so terrible that I have rarely met anyone who would have more right to call herself a victim—but Meghann has never done so. In fact, she claims that if she ever allowed herself to feel like a victim, she probably would not be alive today. Her personal strength is astonishing.

Her intellect is equally impressive. Already blessed with extreme intelligence, she supports her natural gifts with a master’s degree in Public Policy, and bachelor’s degrees in both Political Science and Aerospace Engineering (yes, she actually is a rocket scientist). She also has more than passing familiarity with Austrian School Economics, and her international background, especially in socialist nations, showed her exactly why the principles of the free market and individual liberty cannot be ignored.

Her strength and intellect combine to make her one of the most principled people I have had the honor of knowing. I first met her while she served as a student administrator at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I recall her sitting at budget meetings where millions of dollars would be allocated to various programs and fees and tuition would be raised or lowered accordingly. While administrators and student activists would give long-winded, self-important speeches in support of various programs, Meghann would sit quietly listening and, of all things, knitting. When she had heard enough, she would set her knitting needles aside and ask a question which would often take the administration completely off guard and leave them stammering. She seemed to have a way of finding efficient ways of achieving goals without raising costs and, as often as possible, actually cutting costs. She simply refused to believe that funding higher education required bankrupting students and their families. University administration always seemed to view her questions and comments with complete surprise, yet her suggestions often ended debate and swayed the vote. She would then go back to knitting.

Despite her quiet ways, even then she was passionate about the quality of education the university provided. She constantly crusaded to add curriculum to the College of Engineering and even helped to push for what eventually became a complete curriculum overhaul of the College of Arts and Sciences in order to increase educational rigor.

Meghann has been a good friend for many years, and the hours we have spent discussing principles of individual liberty, fundamentals of good economic policy, and quality in education are now beyond count. After so many discussions, it was no surprise to me to see the key issues of her campaign:

  • preserving and improving parental choice for educational options,
  • improving transparency and accountability in school administration and financing,
  • and demanding increased educational rigor in all areas, especially in math and science.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Meghann will be an effective advocate for all these things.

Indeed, my only frustration is, oddly, that Meghann is not a typical politician. While she never fails to make an appearance at meet and greet functions, it goes against her nature to show up at gatherings, foist herself into people’s conversations, promote her platform, and ask for money. She thinks it seems pushy, arrogant, and intrusive. While I may agree, I have often threatened to get her a hand held sign (think Loony Tunes’ Wile E Coyote) reading, “Shy candidate; please donate.” Nonetheless, although this may drive supporters like me to shake our heads in exasperation, it is also proof that this is not a self-promoting politician as usual. Rather, Meghann Silverthorn stands as a woman of exemplary principles and humility, genuinely dedicated to ensuring the best quality in our educational system, both in rigor and administration.

It is my great honor to write this endorsement for Meghann Silverthorn on behalf of the entire People’s Press Collective. It is actually astonishing that such a fine person is willing to involve herself in politics at all. If the world were operating normally, such an individual would stay as far away from politics as possible. Happily, though, the world is standing on its head, my crumpet is swimming, and my tea is mucking about on the floor rather than remaining in my cup where it belongs. Instead of mopping up, I think I shall add to the mess by popping a few bottles of Champagne in celebration as I imagine Meghann quietly knitting the way to educational excellence on the Douglas County school board.

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