What’s Wrong with Prosecuting Hate Crimes?

July 15th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

I’m an avid podcast listener from Australia,  love hearing your perspectives and also Ms. Lapin’s balancing views!

I’ve got much of your material and I’ve heard you say on the podcast several times about Hate Crime that a law based on the intent of the person is very flawed—it should be the person’s actions that are evaluated, not their presumed intentions.

Why is it then that the 10th commandment is about coveting your neighbour’s stuff – isn’t that about intentions rather than actions? After all the preceding commandments cover the actions – stealing, adultery etc. that could flow from coveting.

I have listened to your 10 Commandments CD set and loved them – really appreciate your insights and teachings,

God Bless,

Primod

Dear Primod,

We’re delighted that together with many, many other listeners you are listening from Oz. We have not visited there yet, but would love to do so. Two of our children worked there one summer (your winter). They loved the people they met and enjoyed an amazing time.

Your question is one that we have been asked numerous times at personal appearances and speeches, so thank you for giving us this opportunity to get the answer down in writing.

One important difference between hate crime legislation and Exodus 20:14 is that this nefarious legislation allows a corrupt government to prosecute “friends” and specially favored groups lightly, while reserving aggressive prosecution for “enemies”.  This program of different punishments for different people who have committed the same crime is done by assigning a hate motive to some.  Meanwhile, Exodus 20:14 allows for no human inflicted punishment since only God knows whether we covet in our hearts.

We want to make two more points critiquing the hate crime category:  The first is that unlike God, we humans are not all-knowing. It is difficult enough to build an honest and principled judicial system that citizens trust to establish whether or not an accused individual did commit the action. It is impossible to set up an honest and principled judicial system that will read people’s minds and tell us what the accused was thinking.

To preserve safety, a just society must punish someone who physically attacks another person (with limited exceptions for self-defense, etc.). Once we increase or diminish the severity of that punishment depending on the victim’s age, sex, race, preferred language or any other label, we open up a Pandora’s box of opportunity for government overreach, corruption and politically correct vindictiveness. An equitable legal system cannot claim to probe deep into a criminal’s mind—most of us don’t even know what is in our own mind, let alone someone else’s.

It goes without saying that there is a vast judicial distinction between someone who intended to murder then did so and someone else who committed accidental homicide. This is the limit to how far we go in delving into a person’s mind.

Our next point stems from ancient Jewish wisdom. As you heard in our Ten Commandments audio program, the phrase ‘ten commandments’ is not only inaccurate but within the Torah they are much more frequently  referred to as the “Two Tablets.” This emphasizes that they are actually five principles, each with two applications.

Number ten is the match to number five. What does honoring parents have to do with not coveting? Who among us has not, particularly when young, been convinced that our friends’ parents or some mythical set of parents would understand us better and offer us a better life than our own do? One of the first steps toward spiritual maturity is acknowledging that each of our life circumstances, including the family into which we were born, was chosen for us by God to equip and challenge us on a meaningful life journey.

You have probably already made the leap to, “Do not covet…” Even if we never say one unsuitable word to our neighbor’s wife and if we treat our neighbor’s property with care and respect, if we spend time wishing that we owned what someone else has, we are not accepting that God gives each of us exactly the circumstances and the challenges that we need in order to grow. Someone else’s wife is not meant for us. Dreaming that she is makes us dissatisfied with our own blessings and ungrateful for what God has given us.

No one—other than God—can ever know what we begrudge our neighbor. Yet our lives will be immeasurably improved if we focus on what we have rather than beam out jealousy and resentment for what belongs to others.

G’day mate,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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19 comments

Alisa says:

I believe it is also important to remember that all murder is a hate crime. We do not need special labels or laws to differentiate between the various motives behind murder. Murder should be punished regardless of the reason it was committed…you have violated God’s law and taken a human life.

TP in SC says:

Do you have children, Alisa?
Most parents would do anything (including “murder”, from your point of view) to protect their own.

Susan Lapin says:

Maybe Alisa understands your comment, TP, but I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t think she was saying that one can’t defend oneself if you (or your children) are attacked, just that deliberately murdering someone whether from jealousy, as a gang initiation, because of anger, because you don’t like them, etc. doesn’t change that a person is now dead and you must be responsible for that.

Mark says:

Susan,

Alisa’s meaning is not clear to me. Her last sentence does seem to imply that any taking of a human life is indeed murder.

TP in SC says:

Thank you for your response Susan, and I did interpret Alisa’s comment to mean that there is no justification for any type of killing. My apologies to Alisa if my perception of her comment is incorrect.
To explain, I was raised in a Christian Church of the United Methodist denomination, and was taught from an early age that the commandment is to be read as: thou shalt not kill. There was no differentiation between killing and murder.
It is my belief that many Americans believe as I once did, and the narrative of secularist culture promotes this-eroding individual and self defense rights.
Clearly I am guilty of assigning this intent to Alisa’s response, (the temptation of the “reply“ button is simply too much for me to bear!) and I throw myself on the mercy of the wise Rabbinical Court and jury of your esteemed readers.
Happy Warriors are certainly responsible for their words, actions and consequences that result!

Susan Lapin says:

Alisa hasn’t chimed in but I know from bitter experience how easy it is to both misunderstand someone else’s words and to have your own words misunderstood, TP. Meanwhile, the responses have enhanced the discussion.

Jean says:

TP, not all homicide is considered “murder.” Murder infers taking the life of an innocent being. Killing in defense of self or others (your children, for instance) is homicide but mitigating circumstances would take it out of the realm of murder.

Al J Hoff says:

Rabbi, Well written. The innuendos and hearsay type of testimony is already illegal, as well as the types of crimes of which too many resort to. Application of current laws on books would handle the matters properly.

J.R. Cagle says:

Technically, virtually all crimes are “hate” crimes as you generally don’t lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc. out of “love.” I don’t care if someone kills me because they don’t like my skin color or because they just don’t like me, it’s “hate” either way and I’m every bit as dead either way. To call one a hate crime and the other just a crime is beyond stupid. The whole hate crime laws concept is totally absurd and needs to be done away with.

Carl Pearlston says:

When I was defending criminals so many years ago, I well remember making an argument to the judge in a particular case, pointing out that, in charging my client for a hate crime in beating up a homosexual, they were trying to punish my client, not just for his bad actions, but for his thoughts, which have always been thought to be beyond the judicial process. The law should punish bad actions, and not inquire into what thoughts may have inspired the actions, and certainly not try to punish the thoughts.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Great way of putting it, Carl,
I wonder what that judge was thinking in his heart after you made a rather unassailable case.
Very wonderful to hear from you; you’re a heroic ancient warrior!
Cordially
RDL

Hope R. says:

As humans we are so dissatisfied. I have always wished that I had a more loving family but God allowed me to be born into this family. I know exactly how (biblical) Joseph was feeling. LOL!

Ike Stennett says:

G’day is more of a greeting, but i like the intent Rabbi 🙂

Susan Lapin says:

Oh, dear. We appreciate the grammatical correction.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks for the gentle correction, Ike,
That what comes from our shameless cultural appropriation.
When we finally travel to Australia, we’ll be attuned to the language.
Cordially
RDL

David Stennett says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan,
Ike (Isaac) is my 16 year old son and has benefited (as have my whole family) from your podcast. Your message a couple of years ago to 13 year old boys was right on the money. We have used this as a framework for him with some success as he navigates his GIC and his future.
He is 3 years in to the 10 year plan and going well.
Thank you for the wisdom and thank you for the energy you commit to sharing it with my family.
Shalom,
David

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you so much David-
Your letter really provided a high-octane boost of encouragement to me. Blessings on your family and keep me in the picture from time to time of Isaac’s progress. Please tell him how pleased I was to hear about his success.
Cordially
RDL

Andrew says:

A comment above states that all crimes are hate crimes because they do not come from a place of love. I disagree with this as most crime occurs from neither love nor hate but from indifference. Most thefts occur not because the criminal hates the victim but because they don’t care about them. Property damage, organised crime and random violent crimes happen because the victims feelings are never considered. In what we are seeing with the wanton destruction we see in the US right now, do the rioters hate the corporate stores they are ransacking? Of course not, on the contrary – they love these brands. As I have realised with age – when someone loves you, that’s ok. When they hate you, they still have feelings for you. What really hurts is when they become indifferent to you.

Oh and Rabbi, do get down to Australia soon… Catch ya later.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hey Andrew–
You’re 100% correct, of course those barbarians feel no hate for their victims–what they have is indeed utter indifference.
If it wasn’t for this appallingly mistaken reaction to Covid19, we might indeed have made it this year. We sure are eager to visit.
Cordially
RDL

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