Thursday, February 16, 2006


When is a hate-crime not a hate-crime? Answer: when the powers-that-be say it isn't. One problem with hate-crime laws is that they're more the result of bad ideology than good criminology, and nothing illustrates this point better than the current spate of church burnings in Alabama. As you may know, five churches were burned in rapid succession late last week, followed by four more overnight Monday/Tuesday. Yet, while I had encountered much reportage on this story prior to writing this piece, I had yet to hear any government official or media figure hazard the guess that these acts could constitute a hate-crime. So I did a Google news search.

I entered the terms "church fires" and "hate crime" and, lo and behold, a search engine capable of plumbing the very depths of the Internet found a staggering twenty-two results (as of 2/7). More significantly, all the articles cited only one or the other of a mere two sources that mentioned hate-crime in relation to this arson-targeting of churches. Twenty-one of the articles mentioned an FBI agent, Charles Regan, who said,

"We're looking to make sure this is not a hate crime and that we do everything that we need to do."

Now, I realize that this was more likely just a manner of speaking than a Freudian Slip, but it seems to me that, when the crime involves a favored group, the powers-that-be look to make sure that it is a hate-crime. And with great zeal too, I might add.

Truly ridiculous, though, was the statement by the director of the Intelligence Project (it monitors what it deems hate groups) of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Mark Potok. Now, for those of you not acquainted with the SPLC, I'll point out that it's a leftist "civil rights" organization headed up by Morris Dees, a man who, after having sued certain white supremacists into oblivion, finds purpose and fund raising success by casting about for clandestine Klansmen among conservatives. It is in this context that you should view the comments of his underling Potok, who said,

"I don't think there's anything thus far to suggest a hate crime."

No one mentioned whether or not he managed this proclamation with a straight face. Really, though, when I imagine someone making such a statement, I envision a man rapidly blinking his eyes with a visage of feigned credulity, saying, "Oh-no! Gomer, I see no evidence of a hate-crime!" No, we're not in Kansas anymore. Don't pay any attention to that bigot behind the curtain!

Now, back to reality. Nine Baptist churches, with both black and white congregations, have been burned in a relatively small geographical area within a very narrow time-frame. Okay, the fact that they are all Baptist may not necessarily be significant since it's the dominant denomination in that area. In other words, it would not require too great a statistical fluke to target nine churches in these counties and happen upon only Baptist ones. Although it should give one pause for thought.

However, to the best of my knowledge, even in the Bible Belt, churches constitute only a very small percentage of the buildings. I suspect that Alabamans have also built schools, stores of various kinds, municipal buildings, residences, offices, barns, warehouses, restaurants and lots of other types of structures. Thus, while I'm no mathematician, I think there are pretty long odds against randomly targeting nine buildings and happening upon only churches. If Morris Dees and company can't grasp this, they surely didn't amass their organization's $120 million fortune through wagering. Save incense and decorative candles, you don't burn things you like. This was a hateful act. So, SPLC, don't pour gasoline down my back and tell me it's rainin'.

Next, could you imagine the reaction if nine synagogues or mosques had been thus burned? The monolithic mainstream media would elevate the story to prominence and exhaust themselves pontificating about how dreadful these hate-crimes were. And the posturing by public officials, oh, the posturing, it would be intense enough to induce backache.

As for this story, there's nothing for the media to glom on to. If only black churches were in the crosshairs, there would be the white bigotry angle. The media can't get enough of that. But the fact that they're all Christian? Please! Such concerns aren't in their programming. in either sense of the word.

While many officials only have the best of intentions when prosecuting hate-crimes, they are frailty-ridden creatures of their age like everyone else. And hate-crime laws add another subjective element to the assessment of criminality. Put differently, people judge things based on their conditioning, and their biases come into play when assessing biases. If a group that has been assigned "hated victim" status is targeted, there's usually an assumption that hate had to have been a motive. If a group that has been assigned "hater status" is targeted, however, the assumption is usually that it is not. And even most conscientious officials, pundits and newsmen always seem to be decades behind the times. While they see a white hood or swastika around every corner, the wave of antipathy toward Christianity seems to escape their notice.

This, despite the vigorous attacks on Christmas that secular fundamentalists have made an annual ritual. This, despite the palpable anti-Christian bias that pervades academia, Hollywood and the rest of the popular culture, and which prejudices millions against the faith. Why, with the way Christianity has been demonized, to not expect attacks upon Christian symbols and institutions defies logic.

But while I've allowed that many who execute these laws are relatively innocent cogs in the machinery, I cannot say the same for the vanguard of the hate-crime law movement. In point of fact, these laws are exactly what these social-engineers intended them to be: an ideology-based attempt at social control masquerading as a noble law enforcement tool. This is why we so often see such an unapologetic embrace of a double-standard in their application.

Case in point: in 2004, eleven Christians arrived at the Outfest National Coming Out Day street fair, a celebration of homosexuality, in Philadelphia, PA. While their goal was to peacefully protest the event by carrying signs and singing hymns, they were confronted by a group called the "Pink Angels," whose members blocked them and directed obscenities their way. Outrageously, the Christians were arrested and charged with a hate-crime for simply exercising their First Amendment rights. And the Pink Angels? You guessed it: no action was taken against them.

Of course, though, since other Western nations are even more hostile toward Christianity than are we, even more egregious examples are to be found abroad. One example would be the fate that befell Canadian Hugh Owens, who was fined forty-five hundred Canadian dollars for creating a newspaper advertisement that included four Bible passages critical of homosexuality. Then there was the case of his countryman, Mark Harding, who was convicted of another hate-crime for distributing pamphlets critical of Islam. Part of his punishment was Islamic indoctrination under the dominion of the leader of a Canadian Islamic organization. However, no hate-crimes charges were brought against the Muslims who called him issuing death threats or those who congregated around the courthouse during his trial and chanted, "Infidels, you will burn in Hell."

Now, some may ask why foreign nations should be relevant to our situation. Well, with the intensifying of anti-Christian sentiment and with Supreme Court Justices like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer saying that we need to look for inspiration beyond our borders, to the laws and constitutions of other nations, these governmental transgressions could be a portent of things to come.

At home or abroad, the dirty little secret is that hate-crime laws are designed to be a vehicle through which traditional activism and expression can be squelched so the leftist agenda can take the floor unopposed. They are a hammer, but not one used on every nail that sticks up. Rather, only the ones that stick up the "wrong" way. Yes, it seems hate is whatever those in power say it is. In light of this, I have some advice for those whose church is next targeted by arsonists. If the facade is burnt beyond recognition, just tell the authorities it was a homosexual mosque. They'll send out the cavalry that day.



Religious outrage sparks public uproar. Charges of blasphemy provoke impassioned demands for fearsome retribution and for the guilty to pay the ultimate price. A heated national debate erupts over the fundamental tenets of society, politics and culture.

It is Scotland, and the year is 1696. The furore in question is the affair of one Thomas Aikenhead, an 18-year-old theology student. On a freezing Edinburgh night in the autumn of that year, Aikenhead and three acquaintances found themselves hurrying up the Scottish capital's Royal Mile as they sought refuge from the biting cold. As they passed the city's austere Tron Church, an embodiment of the country's repressive Presbyterian church, the young man turned to his fellows and joked: "I wish right now I were in the place Ezra called hell, to warm myself there."

The casual remark would turn out to be no laughing matter. The next day, Aikenhead's comments were reported to the authorities of the Scottish church, the Kirk. They didn't see the funny side. A swift inquisition of other students revealed a litany of ridicule of the faith by Aikenhead. He had claimed that the Bible was a work of invention by the prophet Ezra; that Christ's miracles were cheap magic tricks; and that the Apostles were "silly, witless fishermen". The incensed ministers of the Kirk quickly made the affair a cause célèbre. Scotland's chief prosecutor, the Lord Advocate, began a prosecution under a law that those who "railed and cursed against God" or the Trinity were to be punished by death. A repentant and shattered Aikenhead was convicted and condemned. Desperate appeals by distinguished supporters to the Scottish Privy Council, and to King William in London, failed as the Kirk demanded that an example be made. On January 8 of the following year, Aikenhead was put to death.

Three centuries on, the Aikenhead affair, which is related in compelling detail by Arthur Herman in his fascinating book The Scottish Enlightenment, offers some striking insights into the worldwide uproar surrounding the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad first in a Danish newspaper and, later, in other European papers.

The 17th-century incident is, not least, a reminder that Islam has had no monopoly of extreme responses to religious offence. Aikenhead's tragedy reminds us, too, how devout belief by a mass of the population can be cynically exploited for worldly ends by those who claim to be motivated solely by religious conviction. Then, the young man's error was seized on by the Kirk as a means to strengthen its theocratic grip on temporal power in Scotland; now, the confected outrage of President Ahmadinejad of Iran is a powerful means to unite the faithful of a poor nation that might otherwise focus on their Government's shortcomings - not least, their lack of free speech.

Yet among the most important historic lessons we can take from the Aikenhead story flows from what was to follow. The young man's tragedy was to be born just a few decades too early. Even as he went to the gallows, Scotland was in the grip of political and intellectual forces that, by the middle of the next century, would transform its society and its economy, laying many of the foundations for the modern West as we know it. Just four decades later, David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, was able to write: "It is a rare and fortunate age when you may think what you like, and can say what you think."

In this short time, Scotland made a great leap forward, in which it broke free from the dogmatic, authoritarian Kirk under which it had been yoked by John Knox, the firebrand preacher. Instead, it embarked on an age of enlightenment in which freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas would trigger a great wave of economic and social progress, giving the world, among others, Adam Smith, the father of economic thought.

The vital link between free speech and economic progress is a neglected facet of the intense debate sparked by the Danish cartoons. It is one that we should celebrate and cherish. Freedom of expression has been, and remains, the seedbed from which Western economic, social and scientific advancement has flourished. It has been the catalyst for the prosperity that we all enjoy. In earlier times, too, swaths of the history of economic and technological progress are, in fact, a story of heretical rebellion against dogmatic orthodoxy, and thus a testimony to the power of free expression.

Of course, it is possible to point to authoritarian regimes - now and in the past - that, for a time, have been able temporarily to achieve economic progress in some form despite brutal suppression of free speech. History suggests, though, that the inevitable consequence of such repression is to stultify progress, stunt growth and ultimately bring about the collapse of the regime at the hands of a disaffected population. Little wonder that, at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, India was so keen to badge itself as "the world's fastest-growing free-market democracy".

It is, then, sad that some Western goverments - our own and that of the United States in particular - seem to have forgotten these lessons of history and have been feeble in their advocacy of free expression in recent days. Sure, publication of the cartoons may have been ill-judged, insensitive and offensive, but free speech means that we must tolerate statements to which we actively object, however misconceived. The limit to free expression plainly lies where its exercise, through threats of violence, intimidates others into silence, or tries to. The duty of government is not to pronounce on whether a particular statement was in bad taste, but to defend vigorously our fundamental freedoms. To do otherwise is to pander to a retreat from reason and free discourse as the foundations on which our prosperity, and our society, has been built.

From The Times


Britain's canteen ladies are on the point of rebellion and they are blaming celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, whose high-profile campaign to provide better school dinners has left them with a lot more work for no more money. Oliver's huge-rating series Jamie's School Dinners provoked a national debate last year with his Feed Me Better campaign. Amid a blaze of publicity, the television chef visited Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street, where he delivered a petition with more than 270,000 signatures calling for more money to be spent on school lunches. Mr Blair announced that his Government would provide an extra pound stg. 280million ($663million) to lift the average expenditure on a school meal from 37pence in some areas to at least 60p across the board.

However, school canteen staff in London, Cheshire and Nottinghamshire say the money has been allocated to ingredients rather than wages, despite the extra hours staff are being required to work to improve the quality of school food. They are threatening mass walkouts if their wages and conditions are not improved. "Have you any idea how long it takes to peel fresh carrots for 700 children?" Transport and General Workers Union representative Cathy Stewart told The Observer newspaper. "Or cook meat pies to feed 300 or bake seven cakes? Our workload has soared. The dinner ladies are under tremendous pressure ... to deliver top-notch nosh but at rock-bottom pay."

Staff at 21 schools in Ms Stewart's Hackney region in east London will vote on whether to take industrial action to press for more pay. Canteen ladies in Newcastle, in the north of England, have already won a multi-million-pound pay claim. Canteen staff in some areas earn as little as pound stg. 9000 a year. "The Government says they are putting more money in but we are not seeing it in facilities or wages," Ms Stewart said. "All we want is fair pay. I would like to say to (Education Secretary) Ruth Kelly, come and spend a full day in a school kitchen in Hackney and see how hard this job really is."

Ms Kelly said more money had been provided to schools specifically for canteens and their staff. "We are investing pound stg. 220million specifically to help schools and local education authorities transform school meals through training and increased hours for cooks, equipment and a minimum spend on ingredients," she said.

Canteen staff are also angry at the public's impression that it needed Oliver to get them to lift their game. Ms Stewart said she and her members had been trying to improve the quality of ingredients long before the TV chef took up the cause. "We do not need Jamie Oliver to teach us how to cook," she said.


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