Position Statement: Hate crimes legislation involves a delicate balance between punishing criminal acts without stifling thought or speech. As a strong defender of free speech, the ACLU opposes past iterations of hate crimes legislation which threaten to criminalize free speech. Certain versions of hate crimes legislation punish action and not thought. The ACLU may not oppose hate crimes legislation that offers a stronger response to criminal civil rights violations, while also providing clear protections for free speech.
In addition, the purpose of listing protected classes in any civil rights or hate crimes laws is to make sure that those who are targeted by discrimination and are most vulnerable, are protected. These laws are in response to violence based on immutable traits and identities, including race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Including additional categories of aggravators in sentencing such as classes including law enforcement officers, veterans and political affiliation, no longer adheres to historically targeted groups. This would distract from at-risk groups, and raise concerns regarding due process and First Amendment law. We oppose legislation that includes classes which are not defined by immutable traits. We also oppose legislation that lists no classes or categories at all. Bills such as these would result in a law that is ineffective and difficult to enforce.