New hate crimes law will finally include all listed motives

Hate has plagued our society for centuries and has been the source of pain and suffering for many individuals.

A hate crime is an act of violence, intolerance or bigotry intended to hurt or intimidate someone because of his or her real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

Though this is a commonly accepted definition of what constitutes a hate crime, it was not until recently that all of the motives listed were included in the law’s definition of a hate crime.

The original hate crime law, passed by Congress in 1968, permitted the federal prosecution of a hate crime only if the crime was motivated by “bias based on race, color, religion or national origin.”

This law excluded crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender and disability, which have become increasingly prominent issues.

However, in recent years, as the number of crimes based on these motivations grew, the voices calling for justice and equality under the law also grew.

In 2005, more than 7,100 single-bias incidents of hate crimes were reported. Of those, more than 1,200 were based on sexual orientation or disability.

In response to this, legislation was introduced in 2005 to include gender, sexual orientation and disability.

The legislation finally passed the Senate last week to include these as motivations and set penalties for hate crimes.

Passage of this legislation is welcome, but long overdue.

Previous laws contained loopholes that sometimes made the prosecution of hate crimes a difficult endeavor.

The passage of the new law is certainly a positive thing, but its belated arrival does not go unnoticed. The fact that these groups were not covered under previous laws is a sad reality.

Individuals who are the prime targets of hate crimes — no matter their gender, sexual preference or disability — are first and foremost citizens.

The citizens of this country should be able to feel secure and protected by the law, no matter what makes them different from others around them.

Though many in our country may not agree with alternative lifestyles, it does not mean the law should neglect people purely on this basis, just as it shouldn’t on the basis of gender, disability or any of the other groups already protected under the law.

We applaud the Senate’s recognition and inclusion of these groups into hate crime laws.

To those who do not agree with such decisions, it is worth pointing out that the Senate is not condoning or advocating any particular lifestyle, but rather condemning harmful action against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said, “Hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism.” This is true in a sense, because whenever a hate crime is committed, it does much more than harm an individual. Because the crime is directed at a person because of their race, gender or sexual orientation, the crime itself can terrorize entire groups of people.

As a country that believes in the rule of law, we have to work to deter that as much as possible.

We should feel proud to live in a country where everyone can have a chance to live free and without fear, enjoying equal protection under our laws.

The above opinion by the editorial staff of The Lariat (Baylor U.) ran yesterday.