A proposed federal “hate crimes” law would give the government authority to declare certain ideas to be against the law, and should be rejected, said an Ayn Rand Institute senior writer.

“What will a ‘hate crimes’ law add? Despite its name, it is not ‘hatred’ as such that the proposed law targets,” said Robert W. Tracinski. “The real target is the criminal’s ideas. The proposed law declares that criminals motivated by a government-designated set of intolerable ideas — racism, sexism, religious sectarianism, anti-homosexuality — deserve special prosecution and additional punishment.”

Tracinski noted that proper criminal laws prohibit criminal actions of force and fraud, not “criminal” thought.

“A ‘hate crimes’ law would expand the law’s concern from criminal action to ‘criminal thought,'” argued Tracinski. “It would institute the premise that the purpose of our legal system is not to defend the rights of the victim, but to punish socially unacceptable ideas. This is a premise that should be abhorrent to a free society.”

Both the Left and the Right are already politicizing crime, said Tracinski, citing violent left-wing environmental protestors and right-wing anti-abortion activists who have received lighter sentences because of the political views of prosecutors and judges.

“Under such a politicized system, anything goes,” Tracinski said. “The entire criminal justice apparatus can be used as a political tool by whatever faction happens to be in power. Crimes can be whitewashed if done for the ‘correct’ political motives, while extra punishment can be meted out to those with ‘incorrect’ motives. Instead, we should insist on the one principle that forms the foundation for the protection of all rights; that the purpose of law is to punish criminals for initiating force against others-not for holding bad ideas.”