Hate-crime rantings were misinformed, distorted, untrue

Sunday, May 17, 2009

By John C. Bierk

It is one thing for a particular writer to have an opinion about an issue, but it is quite another thing for an editor of an editorial page of an established newspaper to print the misinformed, distorted and nonfactual rantings found in J. Matt Barber's column, "Hate crimes bill is full of swill."

Contrary to Barber's anti-homosexual agenda, the text of S909, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, states that the purpose of the bill is to provided "Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes" to assist in persecuting "Hate Crimes" which are "motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim."

As a seasoned newspaper editor, you well know that different communities in different parts of the country have longstanding histories of biases about different things. It is race/color in some communities (black/white), national origin in other communities (Hispanic, Oriental, etc.), religion or lack of it in other communities (Islam, Jew, Christian, atheist, etc.), gender in other communities (female subordination), sexual orientation (homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual) in other communities, gender identity in other communities (transvestites and transsexuals), and disabilities in other communities (physical and/or mental).

As a result of these kinds of biases, it isn't surprising that the text of S909 says that the "incidence of violence" from "hate" crimes "poses a serious national problem." Nor should it be strange that in cases in which "local jurisdictions" need support or are reluctant to provide legal justice for the victims of certain hate crimes, it is absolutely essential that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act should become the law of the land.

And now for J. Matt Barber and a few of his erroneous allegations:

1. Barber, probably repeating the misinformation begun by Don Wildman, the head man at the American Family Association, says: "S909 would grant special federal resources and preferred minority status to pedophiles." Not true. Pedophilia, a sexual abuse of children by troubled heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, is a recognized and punishable crime in every town and state in the country. Furthermore, S909 doesn't even mention pedophiles, much less give "preferred" status to them.

2. Barber says the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuals and cross-dressers as examples of "deviant" behavior. Not true. the APA Bulletin clearly classified "both heterosexual and homosexual" as "normal aspects of human sexuality."

3. Barber further alleges that "FBI statistics reveal" that there are "relatively few" cases where "bias motivated crimes are committed against homosexuals or cross-dressers" and that victims in such crimes are always "granted 'equal protection of the laws' regardless of sexual preference or proclivity" and that "liberals" are responsible for inserting in S909 a "misuse" of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution in a "feeble attempt to constitutionally justify federal interference with local law enforcement." Not true. National statistics, newspapers, TV broadcasts and victims themselves continue to document the assertion found in S909 that "the problem of crimes motivated by bias [against homosexuals, cross-dressers, blacks, Muslims and other minorities] is sufficiently serious, widespread and interstate in nature as to warrant Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes."

4. Barber, parroting a favorite canard by those who argue that S909 would be unconstitutional by "abridging the freedom of speech," says that this bill is "constitutionally dubious on First Amendment grounds." Not true. Section 10 of S909 reads: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct, or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence."

And this is followed by, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs."

5. Barber's final pitiful attempt at denial is that Matthew Shepard was not "murdered simply for being gay," but "was killed during a robbery for drug money gone awry." Not true. Barber, certain homophobe talk-show celebrities, many anti-homosexual bloggers and even North Carolina's Republican U.S. Rep. Virginia Fox are guilty of repeating this faulty information, but the trial record makes abundantly clear that Matthew Shepard was tortured and then brutally murdered because he was a homosexual. (Also see www.snopes.com.)

It is a serious disservice to your readers and especially to victims of hate crimes that you gave Matt Barber a third of a page to spew out -- unchallenged -- his distortions, red herrings, misstatements and lies. I know we have had our disagreements in the past, but I thought better of you than this.

John C. Bierk is a Cape Girardeau resident.

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