LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A “hate crimes” bill has been introduced in Arkansas to create increased penalties for those who commit crimes based on a person’s race, religion, gender identity and so-called sexual orientation, among other protected characteristics. The bill is being opposed by at least one Christian group, along with the Washington County Republican Committee, as they believe such legislation is unnecessary and creates more problems than it seeks to solve.
Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 1020, presented by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, and Democratic Minority Leader Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, would add to the Arkansas penal code “enhanced penalties for offenses committed due to [the] victim’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or service in United States Armed Forces.”
Prosecutors and juries would have to determine “beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant purposely selected the victim” because of the aforementioned characteristics. After reaching a guilty verdict, punishment would consequently be increased by 20%, whether it be a fine, imprisonment and/or probation.
Filing a false report of a hate crime would be deemed a Class D felony, and law enforcement agencies would be required to submit a quarterly report to the attorney general’s office, which would in turn maintain a repository of statewide hate crime data.
“No Arkansan should live in fear of being targeted for a crime because of who they are, what they look like, what they believe, or who they love. It is time for Arkansas law to send the clear and unmistakable message that hate has no home in our state,” Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, who helped write the draft legislation, said in a statement earlier this year.
“I think the situation unfolding this summer, and the death of George Floyd, have really shown us that we as a society are ready to move forward to a better future. This is the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it,” also remarked Rep. Love, noting that the bill has the support of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus.
“A hate crimes bill will by no means solve all of our problems, but it can deter people from acting on hatred,” he asserted.
However, some opine that the measure will not actually reduce crime despite the increased penalties but will instead only raise questions about the abuse and expansion of such laws.
“We all agree something needs to be done to address racism in our state, but passing a hate crimes law isn’t the answer,” Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox remarked in a statement. “No law has ever stopped hate, and no law ever will. It’s a matter of the heart.”
“The experience of other states proves that hate crimes laws do not work. Over the past few years we’ve seen despicable crimes committed in states that have hate crimes laws. According to the FBI, the states with the most hate crimes all have hate crimes laws.” It’s clear that hate crimes laws simply do not work,” he said.
Similarly, the Washington County Republican Committee recently passed a resolution opposing hate crime legislation.
“Arkansas and federal laws already contain provisions for aggravating and mitigating circumstances based upon empirical evaluation of criminal activities,” the resolution reads in part. “[T]hose provisions include divisions between misdemeanors and felonies and recognition of varied degrees of offense, [and] prosecutors and the courts are permitted further discretions in application of such laws.”
It likewise contends that the legislation does not effectively act as a deterrent but rather presents a situation where examining an accused person’s intents “can ultimately expand into the criminalization of beliefs, or so-called ‘thought crimes.'”
“Such expansion can have a chilling effect on legitimate First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly, and religious practice and belief,” the resolution states. “[S]uch expansion can also open the door to criminalization of other legitimate social behaviors considered by some to be politically incorrect, behaviors which in some cases are already being sanctioned by job and other income losses and by social harassment.”
Cox additionally believes that hate crime laws do not aid in serving justice but rather create “unequal justice” as the law leaves some people out. Crimes targeting the elderly or children, and those involving bullying, harassment or violence against a person thought to be an outcast because of their looks, dress, or economic status would not face enhanced penalties under the proposed bill.
There is an existing law on the books establishing increased penalties for those who commit crimes against law enforcement officers.
“Targeting anyone and committing a crime is wrong and currently illegal,” Cox noted. “When hate crimes laws levy harsher penalties for targeting some people but not others, the punishments can differ even if the crimes are the same. The penalty for assault or murder should be the same no matter the victim’s race, religion, or sexual-orientation.”
The Arkansas Family Council has created a letter that residents can sign to add their name to the voices opposing the proposed hate crime legislation.
In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus outlined that murder, like all sin, begins in the heart. It is why He declared that men must be born again (John 3:3) and have their very nature changed, or they cannot see the Kingdom of God.
“That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man,” Jesus said. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
He also taught hope and freedom from abiding sin, explaining in John 8:34-36, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”