Should Church Vandalism Be Considered A Hate Crime?

That’s essentially what New York state senator Jeffrey Klein is arguing when he explains proposed legislation to make vandalizing a house of worship a felony.

And I agree with him.  Desecrating the grounds of institutions that represent specific subset communities is not simply attacking the specific owners of that property but sending a threatening message to the members of that group’s wider community.  Similar protection should be afforded to activist organizations, be they environmentalist, LGBTQQ, African American, or freethinking.  When vandalism rises above personal harassment to involve group intimidation, it’s a distinctly more extensive crime with a wider potential negative impact.  And especially as an act that tries to intimidate people away from gathering together peaceably or expressing their ideas freely, it must be punished.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Matt Oxley

    Hate crime? Maybe…if the person did so as a method of displaying hate which is hard to prove in court.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Anything specifically destroying religious symbols or conveying messages offensive or contrary to those of religious group attacked would be sufficient.

    But if the vandalism was just, say, a religiously indifferent tag also placed on other walls around town (as a commentator in private suggested), then no, that would clearly not be an act of targeted hate or intimidation.

  • Thom Paine

    Seems that the idea of hate crimes in general is somewhat controversial, but I think the main arguement for them is that they are crimes with the intent of intimidating the entire group, not just the specific individual who is the direct victim.

    Just as burning a cross on the lawn of a black family is much more than a fire code violation or minor property damage infraction, desecrating a synogogue, mosque, temple or church is generally indended as an attack on the group.

    Of course, the same could be said for painting of slogans on the walls and windows of Planned Parenthood clinics.

    II am concerned that a blanket provision could be too broad — for example, as mentioned, tagging done to all the buildings on the street, where one building just happens to be one of these streetfront churches where the tagger probably doesn’t even know he is tagging a church at all.

    And then there is the possibility of incidental damage done in what was a legitimate protest (eg against the Catholic Church’s protection of pedophile priests) that might get the protest organizers and participants charged with hate crimes….

    I suppose that if such laws have been in force in 16th Century Germany, Martin Luther might have been charged with a hate crime for nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg.

  • Ever

    say i vandalized an all girls school… would that be a hate crime against women?.. or say it was a catholic all girls school.. would it then be a hate crime against religion? or maybe its both.. hell maybe i just hate any system of education or i just happen to like vandalizing….. the point is when we hold these people accountable for a wrong … See Moredoing in general this is a good thing is teaches equality.. no matter what wrong thing you do to anyone or anything its still wrong!…

    as soon as we say “well its a hate crime because the property is religious” you give that establishment a certain power that a normal group or person wouldn’t have. You separate it from another equal establishment.. This is a huge reason why religion has the influences in our country that it has now.. we give it special privileges.. and well thats bullshit.. it promotes inequality