I brought a lady over to my place the other day, to look at Bibles, and our conversations seemed to reflect on the subject of hate crimes, so much so that I decided to write an article on what I had learned. Here is my story.
I live up a steep hill. So daunting is the hill that she was protesting part way up. I assured her that climbing the hill was a good way for us to lose fat. She stopped complaining.
We assured each other that we were on the same page, that neither of us intended a sexual liaison. Just the same, I left the drapes parted so that we presented an innocent public appearance. And I didn't keep her any longer than I needed for the visit.
She showed me her new Bibles from her bag. She had a New International Version (NIV) New Testament, a New King James Version (NKJV) New Testament, and a Contemporary English Version (CEV) devotional guide. I told her they all had problems. The NIV has been called by some the "New Idiots Version" as a reflection of its shoddy scholarship and jerky English, the NKJV is wishy washy, being neither entirely contemporary English nor having the authority of the King James Version (KJV), and the CEV is problematic as well, but since nobody takes it all that seriously, I'm not crusading against that one. I told her that she'd be better off with the KJV, that I routinely help people dispose of such modern Bibles, and I'd be happy to throw hers in the trash if she'd let me.
She was dumbstruck at my pointed criticism. She said she used to have a Gideons Bible, is that better? Only when they were passing out the KJV, but now they've gone largely to the NKJV. She had me look at her NKJV and showed me that it said, "King James Version." Then I showed her my Bible. While mine said "Authorized King James Version," hers said "New King James Version."
She then asked what was so wrong with the NIV? I told her that some people have called it the "Non-Inspired Version" because it left out so many favorite verses--some of which they've since put back in, in footnotes. Like what? she asked.
I had her look at (I John 5:7) "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (KJV). That referred to the Trinity, an important Christian doctrine. She understood that. Then I showed her the same verse in her NIV which left out the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They'd taken the Holy Trinity out of the NIV, I told her.
She looked at her Bible, and said, sure it's there. It says (NIV) (I John 5:7-8) "For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement." I showed her, no, that's verse 8 (KJV) "And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." The NIV translators just took the first half of verse eight and called it verse seven which they'd eliminated.
She thought a moment and then said meekly, "Okay."
I asked her, "Okay, what?"
"You mean, okay, I can throw your NIV out?"
She said yes, and I trashed it. Then she asked about the NKJV. I told her it was wishy washy so she had me throw that one out too.
Then she asked about her CEV. Probably in the same category as the others, but I'm not on a crusade against it, did she want me to toss it too? No, she better save one.
I discussed with her where she can find a King James Version, we talked some more, then I helped her into her coat and escorted her to a bus stop to catch her bus to the library. I did some shopping, then returned home to find she'd left behind her Contemporary English Version devotional guide. She's probably not coming back for it, I thought, doesn't like climbing up the hill, so I tidied up, threw it in the trash. She has most of the week until the trash man comes; she'll notice it gone by then; if she really wants it bad enough to come get it, I'll fish it out of the trash.
Now having shared this story, I'd like to apply it to our thinking about "hate crimes." Hate crimes are generally of two categories: against someone on account of physical attributes, e.g. skin color, racial characteristics, sexual orientation; or because of belief systems, e.g. religion or creed. Here for the physical side, we shall use weight orientation; I called her fat. For the idea side we'll use Bible version; I said her Bible was written by idiots. Strong words, all those.
For the crime, we'll say it was my trashing her property, her CEV devotional guide, without her express permission. If it were mere negligence it would be one kind of crime; if motivated by strong negative feelings, another, a "hate crime." Note that to aid our discussion, I've used issues that while emotional, are not so emotional as to override reason, just so we may talk about them and perhaps get somewhere.
According to the first amendment to the U.S. constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech ..." The American settlers emigrated--in large part--from Europe where they'd experienced persecution by the state religion for their alternate religious practices. In the United States we were not going to have a state religion, nor would the state be allowed to interfere with the free practice of one's own religion. These ideas came out of a long debate where it was decided that the civil government was not entrusted to enforce laws of the spirit. Sure it would result in a diversity of beliefs, but those beliefs would have to succeed on their own merits and on free debate in the marketplace of ideas, rather than by the state enforcing them with the sword. Thus was the King James Bible able to prevail over the lady's other ones on its merits and on my presentation, rather than by a state decree.
To use a book analogy further, I am responsible for the condition of the library books I check out when I return them. If they are damaged, I have to pay for their repair or replacement. One day we had a freak storm come up which resulted in one of my library books getting wet. When the library saw the water damage, they sent me a bill for a new book. I tried to tell them it was an "act of God" that caused it, but I still had to pay.
Similarly we now hold the state accountable for any interference with our religious practice; they can no longer put it off on God. Used to be the thought was that since their authority derived from God, then they can enforce a standard religious practice. No more. It's hands off our religion or you the state are in trouble.
Now, suppose I go to check out another book and the library is nervous about letting me take it. They want assurance that it won't come back damaged. "Oh," I could tell them, "it will not be damaged save for normal wear and tear."
Well, they remember what happened to the last book, what kind of wear and tear it suffered, so to assure them I use a metaphor and a hyperbole: "I'll keep it in a glass case." They won't take this literally, that I'll keep a pane of separation between the book and the elements, but they will be reassured. I haven't incurred any legal obligation, in saying that, to keep it in a glass case, just the one to be responsible for damages above ordinary wear and tear, but I've reassured the librarian.
Similarly a (Jewish?) woman concerned about possible state interference with her religious practice--remember the European kings--wrote Thomas Jefferson about her concern. Jefferson wrote back in the same vein I'd have replied to the librarian, with a metaphor and a hyperbole, reassuring her that there was a "wall of separation between church and state." There was not a literal wall, no, this was a metaphor. In fact in those days churches routinely met in federal buildings otherwise unused on Sundays. They didn't arrive the next Sunday to be blocked by a barricade. There was no physical barrier.
Similarly and especially in an era when religion was taken seriously, such a complete barrier mentioned in Jefferson's letter is to be taken as an exaggeration for the purpose of comforting a correspondent. It was not argued that way into the constitution. Religion was to be put into practice, it was expected that those holding office would have serious religious beliefs, and it would therefore naturally occur that they would be expressed from time to time in various ways, say, a congressman offering a prayer according to the formula of his denomination. Normal wear and tear on a library book or on our government institutions was expected and tolerated. At least there is no prohibition against it in the constitution and that was the practice back then, Jefferson's letter notwithstanding.
So for about one hundred and fifty years that letter was obscure, the province of scholars, nobody else talked about "separation of church and state," and our laws and courts basically followed the constitution rather than that letter. By and by, a Supreme Court judge quoted the phrase in his judgment and it has since passed into the popular lingo, though it was never amended into the constitution.
Besides not being in the constitution, the "separation of church and state" doctrine often gets applied in the reverse direction that Jefferson had meant in his letter. Jefferson had meant that the state was prevented from interfering with religion, not that religion could not influence the state.
The glass case prevents me from touching the book but doesn't stop the book's text, what I can see of it, from having an impact on my life. While the library patron is expected not to mar the borrowed books, those books are expected to impact his life, otherwise the library is a failure. Similarly religion, morals, etc. was expected to be so deeply a part of the American people--including its elected officials--that we'd be self governing for the most part, in need of minimal oversight by a government itself a practitioner of self restraint. That the "separation of church and state" doctrine is often used to keep religion out of government rather that government out of religion shows that some people have got it backwards.
The great wall of China was constructed to keep the Mongol hordes out of China, not the Chinese in so much. The Berlin wall was constructed to keep the East Germans out of the West, not the West Germans out of the East. Suppose the border guards got confused, the Chinese one thought his job was to keep the Chinese in so he wasn't concerned with keeping the Mongols out. The East German guard thought his job was to keep the West Germans out of the East, so he was letting the East Germans through. Why, those guards would be executed, they'd be shot--assuming China had gunpowder by then.
Why aren't some of these judges impeached who have their ideas all turned around backwards? Maybe we're intimidated by judges. Maybe it's too much trouble.
Our local law enforcement has its own troubles. They have decided not to act on thefts below a certain value--something like $50, $100. The courts are too busy to bother. By law if a person leaves his property at my house, I have to keep it for 30 days before disposing of it, in case he returns for it. If my lady visitor doesn't return before the weekly garbage pickup and her book is gone, but then comes for it before the thirty days are gone--hardly likely--, I'd have committed theft for having disposed of it the first trash day. Theft of an item worth a buck or two. I'd not be prosecuted. I'm not losing any sleep over it; I just wanted to have a tidy house.
Let's suppose, though, that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, HR1592, gets passed in a form that protects overweight people and Bible believers. Since I threw out her Bible book out of hatred, that is a felony even though it was worth less than $2 and ordinarily wouldn't even be prosecuted.
WAIT A MINUTE! I say. I didn't hate the CEV. True I have a passionate disagreement with the NIV, and a strong aversion to the NKJV, but I'm not all that worked up about the CEV. I just dispassionately threw it in the trash with its sister versions more out of good housekeeping than anything. I didn't "hate" it.
Now you see the problem. I may know in my own heart that I didn't hate, but how is the government going to know the state of my heart? They can't see inside me. So what they are going to do is look for key words called "hate speech" and go by that. I called her fat, I said one of her Bibles was translated by idiots, ergo I hate. If a person is full of hate, it will spill over. They don't have to be exact.
I try to defend myself. Sure, I mentioned that climbing the hill would help us lose fat, but I was including myself in that too. A man stores his excessive fat on his belly, a woman on her hips and thighs. We have different fat orientations, is all, and I am against excess fat, but not against her, no more than I'm against myself for being fat. I'm only against the fat not the person.
We might make a comparison to sexual passions. I as many, if not most, Christians, believe excessive sexual passions should be subdued. They just come out in different places, some heterosexual and some homosexual just as fat is oriented differently on male and female bodies. If I'm against sex with anyone besides a biblically defined spouse, that means I am against a heterosexual committing adultery as well as against a homosexual practicing on his unwholesome urges. I'm not, like, against the people per se, just that unwarranted sexual passion wherever it is oriented. Just because I'm against the fat doesn't make me against the fat person. A person can manage his or her weight, is all I was saying. Yes, it's hard to well nigh impossible for some fat people to slim down just as it is hard for people prone to sexual sin--be it heterosexual or homosexual--to overcome it, but just because I say they should try, that doesn't mean I hate them. Isn't discipline part of love?
And yes, I called her NIV translators idiots, but she also called me silly. She'd told me she was studying how to use a computer and asked if I'd heard of something called the "internet." I said, sure, that's what fisherman use on intercoastal waters to catch their fish, an "internet." She said I was being "silly," and I was.
But in letting free debate reign in the marketplace of ideas, without some ideas being enforced by the state, wouldn't our founding fathers have expected in those debates such terms as, "You're being silly," "Those 'scholars' are idiots," and "That's a queer practice"? If the state could abridge freedom of speech so one couldn't call, say, that practice queer, wouldn't they be establishing that practice as acceptable religion, restraining dissent from a religion who found it unacceptable? That would be a violation of the establishment clause.
Ultimately this "hate" part of hate crime is an internal state of the soul which we've long held to be better left to the churches to deal with, without interference from the state. It was a Frenchman, I believe, who said he'd rather see a hundred criminals stay free than see one innocent man punished. I believe that these well-intentioned proponents of federal hate crime laws in their zeal to prevent the one hundred from acting on their hate, will inevitably end up punishing the odd innocent or two, especially Christians who love their neighbors but hate their sexual sins.
Maybe we could live with special laws protecting overweight people and Bible believers, but the groups actually targeted for protection, some of them, know they are not going to find broad acceptance in society--at least not in the timeframe they'd like--without some great upheavals. They won't mind some collateral damage, and unless we work to stop such hate crime laws from getting on the books, we're likely to find ourselves or our friends the new victims.
Copyright © 2007, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Permission is hereby granted to use this article--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material.
Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.