Today the notion is embedded in our culture. Almost every state has some variety of hate crime law. The most recent F.B.I. count, for 2010, reports 6,628 “criminal incidents” involving bias — instances where local authorities judged that the offender was motivated by hatred of a particular group. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld disparate penalties for bias crimes in 1993. The A.C.L.U., after years of resisting, endorsed a hate crime bill in 2005.
But the fact that it is constitutional and commonplace does not quiet the nagging sense that hate crime legislation resembles something from an Orwell dystopia. Horrific crimes deserve stern justice, but don’t we want to be careful about criminalizing a defect of character? Because our founders believed that democracy requires great latitude for dissent, America, virtually alone in the developed world, protects the right to speak or publish the most odious points of view. And yet the government is authorized to punish you for thinking those vile things, if you think them in the course of committing a crime.
This is an New York Times op-ed. Tom