Family Council’s Position on Hate Crimes Legislation

Synopsis: All categories of people deserve protection, and all are already equally protected under our current laws. Since 1993 Family Council has opposed efforts to enhance penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice or bias against a particular classification of people, because these laws punish criminals’ thoughts or feelings rather than the crime itself. Family Council generally opposes laws that enhance penalties for crimes committed against protected classes, because these laws fail to provide equal protection under the law. They attempt to provide additional protections for some people while ignoring other vulnerable people. Evidence suggests they are not an effective deterrent and do not solve problems related to crime. Below are additional points to consider.

What are “Hate Crimes” and “Hate Crimes Legislation”?

  • A “hate crime” typically is defined as a violent act motivated by hatred, prejudice, or bias against a group of people.
  • Examples often cited include violence motivated by racism or religious disagreement.
  • Hate crimes laws typically list classes of people who are protected from hate crimes. Examples of protected classes include people targeted based on their race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other protected classification identified by the state.
  • Criminals who target victims and commit a crime based on the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other protected classification can face stronger penalties.

Hate Crimes Laws Encourage Prosecution for Thoughts Rather Than for Actions

  • Hate crimes laws encourage speculation about a perpetrator’s thoughts or feelings. No person can accurately know what a perpetrator thought or felt at the time of a crime.
  • Hate crimes laws penalize thoughts and beliefs the government deems objectionable.

Hate Crimes Laws Overlook Other Crime Victims

  • Hate crimes laws often overlook people who are likely to be victims of a violent crime, including people living in poverty, single mothers and their children, or homeless individuals.
  • Hate crimes laws fail to guarantee victims of violent crimes equal protection under the law.
    • Under hate crimes laws, two identical crimes might be punished differently if one of the crimes was motivated by prejudice against a government-protected class of people.

Enhanced Penalties are Already Available in Arkansas

  • Prosecutors can seek enhanced penalties based on the perpetrator’s crime or criminal record.
  • Courts can enhance penalties for particularly heinous crimes like terroristic acts and crimes targeting vulnerable individuals.
  • This gives courts the ability to enhance a punishment based on the crime rather than the perpetrator’s alleged motive for committing a crime.

Hate Crimes Already Are Illegal Under Federal Law

  • There’s already a federal hate crimes law that makes hate crimes illegal.
  • In 2009 the Obama Administration enacted federal hate crimes legislation making it possible for criminals to be federally prosecuted for hate crimes.
  • The federal hate crimes law includes special protections based on sexual orientation.

A State Hate Crimes Law Could Make Arkansas a Lightning Rod for Litigation

  • Hate crimes laws often contain vague language that can be interpreted subjectively in court.
  • In other states, laws singling out protected classes of people have been used to target business owners who decline to cater or otherwise take part in same-sex weddings.
  • Arkansas has not had high profile lawsuits over these disputes the same way Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New York, and other states have.
    • This is partly due to the fact that Arkansas does not have hate crime laws and similar legislation creating specific protections for individuals based on their sexual orientation.
  • These types of high-profile lawsuits could come to Arkansas if hate crimes legislation passes.

Hate Crimes Laws Don’t Prevent Hate Crimes

  • High profile hate crimes have been committed in states that have hate crimes laws on the books.
  • On August 3, 2019, a gunman allegedly targeted minorities in an attack that killed 22 people in an El Paso Walmart despite the fact Texas has a hate crimes law enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by hatred toward the victim’s race.
  • On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed eleven people and wounded seven others at a Pittsburgh synagogue despite the fact Pennsylvania has a hate crimes law enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by hatred toward the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.
  • In 2018 the ten jurisdictions with the highest number of hate crimes, according to the FBI, were California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia. All of these states have hate crimes laws on the books.
  • The FBI tracks statistics regarding hate crimes nationwide. According to FBI reports, the number of hate crimes recorded in Arkansas has fallen from 134 in 2005 to 14 in 2018.
  • In 2018, according to the FBI, only six states reported fewer hate crimes than Arkansas: North Dakota, Alaska, Montana, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Alabama.
  • All of this seems to indicate hate crimes laws are not an effective deterrent against hate crimes.


  • Hate crimes laws are well-intended, but reports indicate they simply do not prevent hate crimes.
  • Hate crimes laws undermine fundamental principles about criminal justice by punishing thoughts and beliefs instead of the crimes themselves.
  • Hate crimes laws fail to protect many people who are likely to be victims of a violent crime, and they do not provide equal protection under the law.

Update: Iowa Man Who Burned LGBT Flag Sentenced to 16 Years for Hate Crime

The Washington Times reports that an Iowa man who stole an LGBT flag from a church and set the flag on fire has been sentenced to 16 years in jail.

Fifteen years of that sentence are due to the fact that prosecutors deemed stealing and burning a gay pride flag as a hate crime.

If this man had stolen and burned an American flag, he would not have been convicted of a hate crime, and he probably would not have been sentenced to 16 years in jail.

He might have been charged with theft, reckless use of fire, or even harassment, but not a hate crime.

The sentence for those crimes likely would be a year or two in jail — not 16.

Stories like these underscore how hate crimes laws create unequal penalties for crimes.

Hate crimes laws encourage courts to punish criminals for their beliefs rather than simply for their actions. They also fail to guarantee everyone equal protection under the law.

All of this simply goes to show why Arkansas does not need a hate crimes law.

You can read more about this story here.

Updated 2:50 PM December 20, 2019: Other news outlets indicate the man’s prior offenses may have played a role in his enhanced sentence as well.