Note: Hate speech, not hate crimes. YouGov asked people about hate crimes for its poll too and found bipartisan support for the federal law that provides steeper penalties for crimes motivated by hatred of the victim’s race, religion, gender, or national origin. Sixty-four percent of Dems gave thumbs-up to that versus 54 percent of Republicans. A plurality of Republicans also support expanding that law to target hate crimes committed against gays: 44 percent say yes versus 30 percent who say no.
Hate-crimes laws matter in the sentencing phase. If you’re guilty of the underlying offense, then you can be punished more severely depending upon what your motive was. A hate-speech law is different in that it treats hate as the offense itself. All you have to do is verbalize your thoughtcrime against a protected group and you’re facing prison. Our intellectual superiors in Europe cherish their hate-speech laws but the First Amendment makes them anathema in the U.S.
Independents and Republicans are heavily opposed (although, alarmingly, not quite to a majority degree among GOPers) but Democrats and liberals — proud guardians of the free-speech movement in the 1960s — are ready to censor. The best spin I can put on this for lefties is that YouGov’s question asked if they’d support a law that criminalizes comments that “advocate genocide or hatred” against a particular group. Could be that some people who said yes focused on the first part of that, genocide, rather than the second and figured that “advocating genocide” is close enough to making a credible violent threat against a person that it can and should be made illegal too. It can’t (unless you’re doing your advocating in front of a mob that’s whipped up and ready to attack someone), but a question asking exclusively about “hatred” would have been better. An interesting footnote to all this: Given America’s history of racism against blacks, you would think they might support hate-speech laws more than any other group. They do support those laws more than whites (44/34 in favor among blacks versus 32/43 opposition among whites) but not as much as Latinos do. Latinos favor them 49/20, a wider gap in support than you find even among self-identified liberals. On the other hand, the left-leaning 18-34 group doesn’t support hate-speech laws much more than any other age demographic does. They break 38/37. Seniors breaks 35/39.
Lest you think Republicans and independents stand against criminalizing all forms of offensive expression, though, here are the numbers when YouGov asked whether we should make it a crime to desecrate venerated objects or places use for religious worship:
Support across the board. This is another question that could have benefited from better wording, though: “Desecration” could mean anything from aggressive vandalism, like smashing a religious statue or graffiting a church’s walls, to mockery that doesn’t involve property crimes. (I.e. a difference similar to the difference between hate crimes and hate speech.) The question was inspired by the case in Pennsylvania where a 14-year-old went up to a statue of Jesus and — well, see for yourself. Jonathan Turley has the photo. When YouGov asked whether that kid should spend up to two years in jail for that specific act of desecration, respondents split 36/47 against. Among Republicans, it was 40/46. Among Democrats, it was … 44/38. That’s appalling but it makes sense given their response to the hate-speech question. If you want to criminalize offensive expression, as many liberals seem inclined to do, why not hit the 14-year-old with prison time for insulting Jesus? Coming soon, presumably: Blasphemy laws.