Should Hate Crimes Be Punished?


A bigot who burns a house because Jewish people live there should be punished more than an man who burns a house because his ex-wife’s family lives there.

Q1 Analysis

This is a Q1 violation if you don’t think that an individual’s thoughts or motivations should be legally punishable. It may also be a violation if you only consider attacks on certain groups to be hate crimes (for example, if you feel that attacks on black people or women are sometimes hate crimes, but that attacks on white men never are).

Q2 Analysis

This may be a Q2 violation if your method of determining what is a hate crime is not rigorous. For example, if you think that anything violent done by a white person to someone who is not white could be a hate crime, then you allow others to suspect that anything you do to someone that does not share your race may be a hate crime.

Depending on how you came to your conclusions about hate crimes, this may also be a Q2 violation if you don’t think that other types of motivation are sufficient reason for extra punishment. For example, should there be an extra penalty if someone who hates lawyers kills a lawyer?


This statement has many of the same philosophical problems that the statement about bigotry had. Before you can define a hate crime, you have to define what groups will be protected (in a legal sense).

One alternative is to consider any crime motivated by the race (or other attribute) of the victim to be a hate crime, but in that case you are allowing the criminal’s personal opinion of groups to define what a hate crime is, and that may be problematic.

Since a person’s thoughts cannot be examined in a court of law, you must also decide what would be sufficient evidence to prove that someone was motivated to criminal action by bigoted thoughts. By Q2, you must accept that such evidence could be used to draw conclusions about you at some point. For example, if a white police officer shoots a black man, and it is found that the police officer enjoys listening to recordings of old Amos and Andy radio shows, is that sufficient reason to accuse the officer of racial motivation in the shooting? What if on the previous day the officer had used a racial slur when referring to a group of black gang members? Would that be sufficient?

You must decide whether hate in and of itself is a crime, or if it only rises to the level of a criminal act when coupled with additional criminal behavior. Should it be illegal, for example, to think that all Germans are bad drivers? Or should this only be illegal if bigotry against German drivers leads to you slash tires in the parking lot of a German church? If bigotry is not a crime in and of itself, why does it become a crime when it motivates immoral behavior? Should any other thoughts or opinions should have legal ramifications.

In which of these cases do you think racial motivation should have moral or legal consequences?

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on May 22, 2010 at 10:11 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

9 Responses

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  1. Written by Faith
    on May 24, 2010 at 8:27 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The thing about hate crimes and white men is that white men don’t live in substantiated fear of being murdered for their ethnicity, whereas black people can’t even trust the cops (see the recent murder of a black seven year old during a police raid) and women can’t leave the house without worrying about whether the man honking at them will follow them home. Very few white people are even threatened for being white and very few men are raped.
    Recidivism also seems like it would be an issue, as far as motivation, because the Stormfront forum idiot who thinks it’s okay to kill Jews probably wont be changing his mind when he’s released on parole. Also, motivation Is taken into account in most murder cases (premeditated murder is usually given more punismhment). I don’t consider hate alone to be a crime, but when it motivates actions, those actions are acrime against both the person and the communtiy so they should be doubly punished.

    • Written by ideclare
      on May 24, 2010 at 9:39 am
      Reply · Permalink

      One quick disagreement — I’d say that premeditation isn’t a measure of motivation, it’s a measure of how much time passed between the motivation and the attempt.

  2. Written by Faith
    on May 24, 2010 at 8:47 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Oh wow. Sorry for the wall of text. I would like to add that I really like your site and it is definitely useful when I’m debating religion and ethics with my catholic friends.

  3. Written by Middlemet
    on May 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm
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    I’m not sure I agree with the first part of your Q1 analysis. It’s possible to read it two different ways. In the first analysis, you could be saying that if you think that motivation should have no bearing on legal ramifications for any crime then support for hate crime legislation is inconsistent. In the second reading you could be saying that if you disagree with the concept of ‘thought crime’, or the idea that holding certain undesireable attitudes should be illegal, then you cannot consistently accept the idea of hate crime laws.

    If the first reading is the intended one, I would agree, especially since motivation is to a certain extent built into the definition of a crime. For an easy example, the difference between first and second degree murders, which have different legal definitions and consequences, despite the fact that they both involve someone killing someone without justification.

    If the second, I don’t think I agree. Not about whether or not hate crimes are a good idea (which we’re not even talking about), but whether or not one can consistently support the concept of them and still be opposed to the idea of thought crime. In this I admit I’m treading into a bit murky ground, but it gets into what an individual might feel is the point of the criminal justice system. Whether or not it’s to redress injustices to individuals, to society, to some combination of the two, or some other motivation (God, fair-play, etc.)

    Rather than detail all of these, I’ll just stick to one, purely in an attempt to demonstrate Q1 consistency. With an assumption that the criminal justice system is an attempt redress a ‘debt to society’, a hate-based criminal act can cause a greater amount of societal damage than one which is based on purely personal concerns (not that a purely personal crime is in any way not a bad thing). Hate crimes can contribute to disenfranchisement and socioeconomic decline for whole groups of people. For example, the lynching of individual blacks to intimidate as many others as possible from attempting to vote or exercise their freedom of speech. While an indvidual may feel that another’s opinions and prejudices, however distasteful, might be protected, they could still feel that a criminal’s motivation in the commission of a crime could merit additional punishment based on societal damage.

    Having said all that, all the practical concerns you raise in your Q2 analysis and discussion sections certainly still apply.

    • Written by ideclare
      on May 24, 2010 at 5:01 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      “While an indvidual may feel that another’s opinions and prejudices, however distasteful, might be protected, they could still feel that a criminal’s motivation in the commission of a crime could merit additional punishment based on societal damage.”

      You bring up an interesting point (and I appreciate that you did such a nice job of framing it within the context of 2Q).

      Let’s look at the statement under discussion: “This is a Q1 violation if you don’t think that an individual’s thoughts or motivations should be legally punishable.” A trivial response to your point would be that someone who didn’t think motivation should be legally punishable would, by definition, not think that a criminal’s motivation merits additional punishment for any reason. However, this would be picking at your words instead of really trying to respond to your point.

      In your example, giving additional punishment to someone convicted of a lynching does not contradict a belief in thoughts/motivations not being legally punishable if what is being punished is not the thought, but the harm caused to society. In that case, I think you would have to agree that a lynching that was perceived by society as racist would have to be punished as if it were racist (because of the harm done to society), regardless of whether or not it really was motivated by race. But in that case, you are changing the definition of racial hate crime from “a crime motivated by race” to “a crime perceived as motivated by race.” Since this isn’t the definition I was using in my statement, I don’t think it proves my statement incorrect.

      Adding to this, I think that allowing the law to punish based on perception of racism is even more problematic than punishing on the basis of racist intent. If I’m a white person with a short fuse and throw a fire bomb at my shut-in neighbor’s house because he won’t stop playing his stereo so loud, should there be a risk of an additional penalty for the crime if it turns out that my neighbor is black? If I’m a black man rioting with other black men to protest a racist court decision and we destroy a restaurant because it’s a symbol of white oppression, should my punishment for the crime be lessened if it turns out that the owner of the business isn’t white?

      Punishing for perception can also turn innocent actions into hate crimes. Let’s say that I’m an apartment building owner and always rent apartments to the first person who applies and can pass a credit check. Let’s also say that none of my tenants are Hispanic. Should that put me at risk for prosecution on the basis of discriminating against Hispanics?

      So getting back to your comments, while I do think that you make a worthwhile point, I consider it to be an additional point to the one I made in my discussion, as opposed to a contradiction of my discussion.

  4. Written by Middlemet
    on May 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I’m with you on the problematic nature of the implementation of hate crimes legislation. No arguement here. In that particular reply I was merely arguing that someone could consistently believe that crimes motivated by hate merit additional punishment, even if the individual did not believe that hateful thoughts alone merited punishment. I wasn’t trying to dispute your discussion at all, just the first part of the Q1 analysis.

    I am perfectly willing to concede that creating hate crime legislation targeting particular populations may constitute a Q2 violation. Why protect race and not gender? Why protect gender and not sexuality? Why protect sexuality and not religion? Different states respect different categories based on the politics of the time.

    I am also perfectly willing to concede the point that it becomes an issue of perception when you attempt to actually attempt to put into practice legal definitions, standards of evidence, and issues of what one or another person might define as ‘hateful’. Reading older books and texts you can find countless examples of people espousing attitudes quite liberal for the time, but almost baldly racist or antisemetic by today’s standards. What is and is not a hot button can vary from decade to decade, from region to region, and even from individual to individual. I’m not arguing for against hate crime laws at all.

    Having said all that, I don’t think that there is necessarily a problem with attempting to legally establish intent, which is at the core of the definition of a hate crime. Courts do that all the time now as it is. It’s problematic and an inexact science, certainly, but they’ve been going at it for centuries now. Whether or not someone intended to kill someone else in an altercation, whether or not someone was either criminally negligent or actively malignant, whether or not someone was merely mistaken or committing a malicious slander intended to damage someone’s reputation. It’s all part of the narrative that both sides of a legal dispute attempt to weave to win their case, especially when there is little dispute over the facts.

    Once again, I’ll grant that the implementation of hate crime laws are all a matter of perception and perspective, but so is a great deal of civil and criminal proceedings as it is. Unintended consequences are almost always dealt with more leniently than someone who meant harm. In the lynching example, regardless of whether or not it was racially motivated, it did harm society, but if a defense can establish that there was no racially motivated intent, they can stick with ‘mere’ murder.

    To look at a few of your examples, the white person who threw a firebomb at his neighbor can (and should) be prosecuted for at the very least attempted murder, but the prosecution and defense may wrangle over whether or not it constitutes a hate crime. The defense could introduce evidence that the defendent had made several complaints to the landlords and police regarding the noise level, and could attempt to show that he held equitable racial opinions, even if he was demented enough to throw a firebomb at a neighbor for any reason.

    The black man destroying a restaurant could face evidence from the prosecution of racial epithets shouted as the establishment was attacked, as well as the testimony of witnesses, all with an eye towards establishing a racially motivated intent. Even if it turns out that the restaurant was the wrong target for the defendent’s misplaced anger, it doesn’t change the criminal act of rioting, and the racially motivated criminal intent of the crime.

    As far as your landlord goes, if he was sued on the basis of discrimination, he could produce his records and policies regarding the awarding of apartments to establish that while he may have been guilty of discrimination there was no discriminatory intent. The legal solution there would likely be a court order to modify the policies, not to criminally punish.

    In conclusion, having rambled on for longer than I intended, I still assert that being in favor of hate crimes legislation is still possible for someone who is against the concept of thought crime and thus not a Q1 violation. I also think that despite the practical hurdles of the development and implementation of hate crimes laws it is not necessarily beyond the abilities of our legal system. I agree completely, however, that it is possible for it to constitute a Q2 violation. My regular disclaimer still applies, regardless of my earlier conclusions I make no value statement as to the relative merit of hate crimes laws.

    • Written by ideclare
      on May 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      I agree with you that intent can (and often should) be a factor when considering how much punishment is warranted for a crime. This is (generally) what separates murder from manslaughter. However, there is a distinction to be made between additional punishment due to motivation (which we are discussing) and thought crimes (in which the thought itself is a crime).

      In your conclusion, you say, “I still assert that being in favor of hate crimes legislation is still possible for someone who is against the concept of thought crime and thus not a Q1 violation.” After considering this some more, it looks to me like your statement is correct, but only because it is dealing with a subject different than the one I originally posted about. Believing both “a person’s thoughts should not be legally actionable in and of themselves” and “racially motivated crimes deserve additional punishment” is, as you argue, not necessarily a Q1 violation. However, I still think that believing both “a person’s motivations should not be legally punishable” and “racially motivated crimes deserve additional punishment” is a Q1 violation.

  5. Written by Middlemet
    on May 25, 2010 at 4:30 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I won’t quibble. Thank you for the discussion. I hope we can have another some time.

  6. Written by Anonymous
    on July 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    yes,its antisemitism, which is not just prejudice against people who practice Judaism, but who are ethnic Jews, Not all Jews are religiously Jewish, and If one is attacked because his ancestors were Jews, that is equal to attacking an African descendant.

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