Is religious belief now a hate crime?

Pardon if this has been discussed before. The story’s a year old, and I searched on “Amish” and “hate crime” here but found nothing.

The AP recently ran an article on a group of Amish believers being sent to prison on hate crime charges.

They detained and assaulted fellow Amish members, cutting off their beards and hair, on allegations of the victims straying from the true faith.

It’s my understanding that the victims refused to press charges, and that’s when the government stepped in. Because the attack was religiously motivated, they perpetrators were charged with, and ultimately convicted of, hate crimes. They’ll now be spending up to fifteen years in federal prisons.

I’m trying not to be alarmist here, but how can someone commit a hate crime against another member of his own religious group?

If two Baptists get into it after church one Sunday, it’s misdemeanor assault. But if they were fighting over some sermon point, does it suddenly become a hate crime? Has religious belief suddenly become a prosecutable offense?

Am I being alarmist?

You raise an excellent question, for which I don’t have the answers.

The whole idea of ‘hate crimes’ is absurd, in my opinion. If I kill you to steal your money, it’s just a regular murder. If I kill you because I hate your race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, then it’s a HATE CRIME. I just don’t see how one is worse than the other, or why one should automatically result in higher penalties than the other.

From a legal perspective, categorizing crimes based on the presumed motive opens a whole can of worms. Motive may play a role in a trial, particularly when it comes to the sentencing, but the idea that my motive makes it a different crime, or that my motive is a crime in and of itself…well now we’re getting into Orwellian ‘thoughtcrime’ territory.

And when the meanings are so vague, we get into a whole mess of possible abuses – like this one, where an assault was arbitrarily determined to be a hate crime even though it seems unlikely that a practicing Amish person hates Amish people. If a white man assaults another white man, it’s probably going to be treated as a plain assault. If that same white man assaults a black man, for example, the prosecutor will probably categorize that as a ‘hate crime’ and go for tougher penalties, even if, in fact, the assault had nothing to do with race.

Motive and intent can have a major impact on MORAL culpability for an act, but I don’t see how we can possibly use it to adjudicate LEGAL culpability in a fair, just way. Seems to me that a criminal ought to be punished about the same, no matter whether his motivation was grounded in hate, or greed, or just plain malice.

If I’m the victim of a robbery, I don’t particularly care whether the robber was targeting me because I looked like I had money or property, or because he despises my race or religion. I care that he robbed me! It doesn’t seem just to me that he might get stiffer penalties if there is some tenuous reason to think there might have been ‘hate’ involved.

Yes you are being an alarmist. The only way you get charged with a hate crime is if your act is violent. Amish are pacifists so it doesn’t take much to kidnap and assault them. What if someone ripped the covering from a Catholic nun and insulted her for being catholic? If you don’t assault people because of their religious beliefs you have nothing to worry about.

Yes, you are being an alarmist.

The Baptist situation you describe is a one-time happening in the spur of the moment. The attacks in the story were deliberate, planned, violent acts with a hateful motivation designed to spread fear amongst a particular group.

For a comparable situation, let’s try this: a group of breakaway Catholics believe in female ordination. So they organize themselves to routinely assault Catholic Priests during Mass, pin them to the ground and remove their collars as a means of making a “statement.” I know the word “terrorize” has certain ideas attached to it that make one think of far more pressing matters - car bombs and the like. Yet while these particular acts (the collar stealing) aren’t nearly so serious, they are still organized violent crimes with hate-based motivations designed to spread fear amongst a certain group (in this case, faithful Catholics).

Another example would be, say, burning a cross on the lawn of an African American.

Your criteria are: 1) violent in nature; 2) premeditated; 3) motivated by hate; and, 4) designed to spread fear in (amongst) a group. But the definitions I’ve been able to find don’t support 1), 2) or 4). Thus far, my Baptist example stands.

The FBI website says:

Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

and then elaborates:

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.

The point of concern here is that this case did not involve acts committed by one group against another; this was an internecene fued. It becomes difficult to see how this could be by any useful definition characterized as “bias”.

Secondly, it’s not clear to me that it was even all that. From what I can tell the attacks were not motivated by differences in religious belief, but by the concern that certain members within the group were not practicing mutally shared beliefs faithfully enough.

At least my Baptist analogy has the distinction of being clearly a dispute over doctrine.

Finally, even assuming it was clearly a doctrinal dispute, the definition specifies “bias against a religion”, not “a religious belief.” Equating the former with the latter, especially when the latter is an issue of orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, would be disastrous.

For a comparable situation, let’s try this: a group of breakaway Catholics…

Your analogy has already failed. This was not a case of one breakaway group of Amish against another. This was a squabble within a single group.

You’ve really oversimplified and failed to properly describe the crimes committed in the Amish community.

How many Catholics called their legislators to oppose the notion of “hate crime” when it was first proposed?

Why do we sit on our hands, and then complain when bad things happen to us?

I admit the possibility. I can only go by what I’ve managed to turn up so far. I’d be grateful for links to more detail.

I’m not a lawyer but I play one on the message boards.:stuck_out_tongue: But it seems to me that hate crimes are redundant. You already commit a murder,robbery,rape, or any other crime, you have committed a crime your motives should not count. Plus hate crimes seem to be
one sidedly enforced, depending on what side of the PC spectrum you fall under.

Yep. That’s why a racial supremacist group like the Black Panthers (the black equivalent to the KKK) will always get a free pass.

Yes. You’re being alarmist. That case occurred near here and it was all over our local news. Your example of 2 Baptists getting into a push/shove match over a matter of faith isn’t a good comparison to what happened in this instance. The things these defendants did went way beyond the pale. Home invasions. Violence. They belonged to a bizarre and cult-like sect which terrorized and brutalized other Amish based solely on what they thought those other Amish should believe and how they should practice the Amish faith. They deserved the punishments which were meted out.

Not quite yet-but there are signs that it is in the offing.

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