Can “Showing Love” Be a Hate Crime?

The University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics group has a large banner hanging in the Central Academic Building of the school. Displaying a Scarlet A, the group’s name, and the words “Speak Out,” it’s supposed to encourage non-religious students to attend group meetings and perhaps even come out publicly as an atheist.

Over the weekend, that sign was vandalized:

Seems like some Christians defaced the atheist group’s property by writing “Jesus is coming!” and “God loves you.” They also removed the group’s email address and website URL from the bottom of the banner.

Of course, this is wrong. No one should destroy the property of others. I’m sure if the atheists wrote “God doesn’t exist” and “Jesus is never coming back” on the Christians’ banner, there would be an uproar. I would hope the Christians responsible for this (if indeed they were Christians and not rogue atheists) have the decency to pay for the damages.

Or, better yet, imagine the positive press a Christian group would get by offering to pay for the $70 worth of damages — even though they were not responsible for the vandalism — because they respect peoples’ right to believe what they want even though they hope that belief leads them to Jesus. That would be downright Christlike…

I was a bit curious, though, about the wording of a press release (PDF) issued by the atheist group president Ian Bushfield:

The University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics were targeted by hate-fuelled vandalism over the weekend of September 19-22 when their large banner was defaced.

Ian adds on his own site: “This is not a joke, this is a serious hate crime.”

A hate-crime? Really?

If anything, it’s the opposite, no?

Ian’s appearing on local news tonight to discuss the incident. (***Update***: The segment was cut from the show.) Hopefully, he can help turn this problem into a promotional tool for the group — this type of intolerance is exactly why a group like his is needed on campus.

(The UAAA is an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance.)

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    My segment got cut from the local news. Perhaps having a cold while trying to handle all of this is not the best turn of luck.

  • SarahH

    It all depends on how you define a “hate crime” (which I think is a very poorly worded idea to begin with).

    I think the general understanding of “hate crime” involves an individual or group being specifically targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or some combination. It involves bigotry and prejudice as specific kinds of hate – hate that some governments want to punish more severely in order to discourage further attacks on people/property.

    This makes sense to me. Most violent or destructive crimes involve “hate” in the sense that the perp hates the victim, but the motive is usually specific and personal – not due to prejudice against an entire group. Racism, homophobia, intolerance, sexism – these are forces that usually manifest themselves privately (when grandpa gets drunk) or passively. When they result in a crime – whether it’s vandalism of property or something more serious – the government has to punish it and condemn it swiftly in order to support the targeted demographic.

    Anyway, I don’t know that it’s wise for the group to claim this as a “hate crime” due to a million nuanced reasons, but I don’t think it’s philosophically different from other hate crimes. If the banner vandalized had been a gay/straight alliance banner and the graffiti read: “God even loves sinners” and “Please repent – we don’t want to see you go to hell!” I doubt there’d be much debate over whether it was a “hate crime” or not. Love can certainly be a component in what we call “hate crimes” and it doesn’t make them any less despicable.

  • http://www.purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    That sucks. I sympathize with you guys. We always have people scribbling “God loves you” on our fliers, but at least it wasn’t on something big (and time and money consuming) like this banner. Though at least you have good proof of what is happening. We had a LOT of trouble with people pulling up our fliers (at Purdue you tape fliers to the sidewalk…yes, people would get on their knees and peel them off. I caught some in the act, but since I couldn’t get a photo or name, Purdue couldn’t do anything). I wouldn’t play up the hate crime thing too much, but do complain because of the vandalism.

    And on a completely unrelated note, it seems that the Skeptics Annotated Bible isn’t working. Is that just for me?

  • http://www.primordial-blog.blogspot.com/ Brian Larnder

    Incidently wasn’t “Jesus is cumming” the title of that gay Jesus poster from the other week?

  • benjdm

    It’s vandalism, so it’s a crime. It at least could be interpreted to fit the criteria of ‘the perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.’ It’s not a particularly severe crime, of course – the only direct victim is an inanimate object.

  • Pseudonym

    Don’t get me wrong. This was vandalism, no question about that. But if scribbling on and removing a piece of a banner is a “hate crime” (we’re assuming the absence of any actual anti-atheist slogans, threats or whatever), then stealing and defacing a cracker is a hate crime by the same definition.

    Admittedly, the banner probably cost more than the cracker.

  • http://brentcliffe.blogspot.com Alex

    I’d keep that defaced banner handy and trot it out every time I needed to make that point about fringe Christians. Or frame it and hang it on the trophy wall.

  • benjdm

    then stealing and defacing a cracker is a hate crime by the same definition.

    True. However, no one stole a cracker in wafergate. There was no crime.

  • http://imperfectchurch.ning.com Josh

    While this was definitely vandalism, which definitely constitutes a crime, I do not know if I would go so far as to claim that it was a “hate crime.”

    I think that it is just another example of Christians who are missing the point. I say this as a Christian, and I say this as a pastor. Jesus Christ never suggested that his followers behavior in such a way.

    His rallying cry was that people should love the Lord their God with every fiber of their being and then that they should love their neighbor as they love themselves.

    A crime, such as the one described, was committed by some “Christians” who obviously have missed the crux of Jesus’ message.

    Moreover, even if the Christians who scribbled this message, somehow managed to view atheists and agnostics as their enemies; they’ve still missed the point. Jesus, in the only sermon that he ever delivered, was very clear that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

    Don’t misunderstand me, as a Christian I have done some things that I am ashamed of. I have acted in ways, said things, and attempted to share the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that would God would have been very displeased with. I never defaced property or vandalized anything; but I have refused to listen and I have cornered people and blasted them with tract. I’m not perfect. I have made mistakes. But I am willing to own up to and learn from them.

    Hate, vandalism, and an unwillingness to listen has never accomplished anything good.

  • N

    IMHO, this was a crime of ignorance rather than hate. Yes, christians are intolerant of atheists, but it trivializes the term “hate crime” to use it in this sense; and it certainly does not qualify as a “serious hate crime.” This does not compare to a person being tied up and dragged behind a speeding pickup truck because of his sexual orientation/race/etc. That is a serious hate crime.

    The jerks who did this should be made to pay for the damages, though, and scorned publicly. Humiliating write-ups should abound.

  • Rat Bastard

    SarahH, if paint is sprayed in the form of a swastika on a synagogue, it’s a hate crime, non-sentience of the receptacle notwithstanding. Jews and xtians, (name your religitard) get the “free ride”, so do atheists.

  • benjdm

    This does not compare to a person being tied up and dragged behind a speeding pickup truck because of his sexual orientation/race/etc.

    Of course not – murder does not compare to vandalism.

  • Jen

    I think you could make an argument that this is a hate crime. It certainly isn’t respecting the right of Ian’s atheists to be atheists, and I can see how it is a threat. For instance, burning a cross in someone’s yard isn’t physically hurting them, but it is reminding people that they are the minority and the majority can do whatever they want. Now, I am not from Canada, but I am going to assume for this purpose that they are America’s hat. If this were to happen in, say, Alabama, I would absolutely believe it was a threat- Jesus is coming to kick your atheist Muslim ass, you faggots, and all of that. I can’t speak to how the nuts are in Canada, but they could be threatening.

    That said, the public at large seems reluctant to refer to anything as a hate crime. Jena 6, anyone? In America, nooses are “harmless pranks” so lord knows no one would care about this.

  • Gabriel

    No it isn’t a hate crime. It is vandalism. A misdemeanor. At the level it occured it is probably only punishable by a fine. This was done by stupid people showing they were stupid. But come on, haven’t we as atheist done some stupid stuff before? I know that I have done stupid things. Frame it and get a plaque hung next to it explaining what happened. If we use hate crime do describe every little act of stupidity then the term becomes meaningless. If that happens then when something truly wrong happens we have to invent new language to describe it.

  • J Myers

    ….respect peoples’ right to believe what they want…

    Hemant, what nonesense! A belief is what you think is true about the world; it’s not possible to simply “believe what you want.” You can only believe what you believe, though you may wish that you believed differently.

    A “right to believe” something is as meaningless as a “right to digest food” or a “right to fall over when you trip”… you’re going to do it–you can’t help doing it–regardless of any declaration that it is your “right” to do it.

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    I should also say, this isn’t just the stuff written on our banner, the vandals did go so far as to remove our groups email and website from the bottom – essentially attempting to censor our attempt to attract new members (at least we have high google rank).

  • Epistaxis

    This does not compare to a person being tied up and dragged behind a speeding pickup truck because of his sexual orientation/race/etc. That is a serious hate crime.

    I don’t know what the particular law is in Canada, but in general, a hate crime is just a normal crime that’s motivated by hatred toward a particular group. This is a lesser crime than hate-motivated murder the same way ordinary everyday vandalism is a lesser crime than ordinary everyday violent murder.

  • Pseudonym

    Rat Bastard:

    SarahH, if paint is sprayed in the form of a swastika on a synagogue, it’s a hate crime, non-sentience of the receptacle notwithstanding.

    I knew someone was going to suggest that. The difference, as I see it, is that a swastika carries an implied threat. “God loves you” does not.

    (“Jesus is coming” could be seen as a mild threat, I guess. Any mention of hell could also be interpreted as threatening.)

    Ian:

    I should also say, this isn’t just the stuff written on our banner, the vandals did go so far as to remove our groups email and website from the bottom [...]

    I don’t think that changes whether or not it’s a “hate crime”. It’s still vandalism. If it’s censorship, it’s a pretty inept attempt; it would have been more effective to remove the banner entirely.

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    Love Crime… heh heh heh…

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/MattDittloff Mattmon

    I’m sure if the atheists wrote “God doesn’t exist” and “Jesus is never coming back” on the Christians’ banner, there would be an uproar.

    What they should do is write “God doesn’t exist” and “Jesus is never coming back” on that vandalized banner, and leave the banner up. Respond to the graffiti by writing their own graffiti on it.

  • http://blog.jaredharley.com Jared

    Although not as heinous as a swastika on a synagogue or a murder, this is technically a hate crime.

    I work for a campus police department, and we recently took a report where a white male wrote “nigger” on the whiteboard (ie, not permanent damage) of another white male’s door (most students put whiteboards on their doors to leave each other messages). These two guys were friends and thought they were being funny, but it was investigated as a hate crime even though neither of them were black or offended by the statement.

    This is a hate crime, as it is a crime that was specifically targeted at one group, but if the group filed a police report, the suspects would never be charged with a hate crime, just vandalism.

  • http://hugotheatheist.blogspot.com Hugo

    Don’t spread your filthy message, I destroy your property!
    But don’t prosecute me because I love you.

    ..
    .
    What! You didn’t make diner! I’ll kick you into the hospital!
    But don’t leave me because I love you.

    ..
    .
    Jesus is coming (not spoken but obvious: to kick your ass to hell!)
    But he loves you

    The second emotion does not remove the hate of the first.

  • Richard Wade

    Everybody here has been so thoughtful, so since I’ve been minding my manners for quite a while, I’ll indulge and say it for anybody who silently agrees:

    What fucking assholes!

  • http://anotheratheist.blogspot.com muffin

    Josh said:
    they’ve still missed the point. Jesus, in the only sermon that he ever delivered, was very clear that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into that comment because I’ve had a few beers, but, are you implying that the atheists who made the banner are enemies and are persecuting christians?
    If so, do you consider every atheist to be an enemy? And is the very existence of atheists considered persecution to you? I really hope not.
    If I’m wrong in my assumption (which I hope I am), I apologize for asking. If I’m right, well.. Wow. That’s all I’ve got to say.

  • http://nosmokings.blogspot.com joe

    I don’t know about hate, but it is certainly vandalism and certainly rude. Everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Interesting that no one here is even questioning whether hate crime is a useful category of crime in the first place. Why does it matter if libel, vandalism, theft, murder or any other kind of crime is fuelled by hate towards a specific group? I personally don’t think it should, simply because it rings of thought policing. Also, as an atheist I’d be very wary of calling this hate crime, simply because it makes us come off as whiny. Why should we care if they hate us or not? They can hate us all they want as long as they don’t vandalise our stuff. THAT should be our point in this debate, not “omg this is a hate crime!”

  • Tim Bob

    im just going to add this tidbit, “hatecrime” is starting to show itself as a quick easy method of becoming a victim. be pissed for a bit, ask questions. show it as yet another inconsistency in religious groups, do with it what you will, but the second you start calling in a prejudicial hate crime, doesnt it lose its affectiveness in proving yet again that morality doesnt stem from religion? once you start processing things in one medium they lose their value to prove or show or make a point. you’re going to hear more “whiner” than anything else <– not what i think, but it’s true! It’s up to you i guess to decide which path to take with it. just please use it to maximize the eye opening. Don’t get lost in description or terminology be the bigger person. harmonize with popular christian believe hahha “love your enemies” hahha talk about them at your next meeting and think of constructive ways and really nice ways to explain to them what they did wrong. believe me being nice to them will be like rubbing a dogs nose in it’s own proverbial poo. it’ll be satisfying for you and they’ll be so confused and caught off guard and completely bummed that you didnt blow up on them, and if you by chance figure out who it was, tell the school the only punishment you’d like to place on them is that they attend your next meeting. During your meeting dont say a word to them just make em sit there quietly. maybe some exposure will gain you a new member or two lol.

  • cipher

    Ian,

    Have you confronted any of the Christian groups on campus about this?

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    I don’t think it’s a hate crime. I think it’s someone not having respect for someone else’s beliefs, as Hemant stated in the post.

    Making a statement by scribbling something on another person’s property is graffiti. Property damage. I would have a ton of respect for any group to pay for the new banner, regardless of the guilty party.

  • chancelikely

    I’ve noticed (on the Internet and in meatspace) that “I’ll pray for you” or “God loves you” after losing an argument is frequently a code for “Fuck you”.

    It’s sort of a new breed of sarcasm, where the connotation is wildly different from the denotation, but it doesn’t seem like the same thing to me. Perhaps it’s because with real sarcasm, the listener is supposed to pick up the hidden message, while with “I’ll pray for you”/”God loves you”, I’m not really sure the hidden message is intended for the listener.

  • http://imperfectchurch.ning.com Josh

    Muffin,

    I, personally, do not feel that atheists, agnostics, or any other group for that matter are the enemies of Christians. Our worldviews are varied and incompatible, to be sure. But does that make someone an “enemy”? I think not!

    My point was merely that even if a “Christian” did consider an atheist/agnostic/Buddhist, etc. to be an “enemy”- they are still reacting in a way that would be contrary to Jesus’ life and teachings.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    I’d keep it and frame it under the heading of “Religious Tolerance”. Turn the act of vandalism into something you can use. Revenge at it’s sweetest.

  • SarahH

    Tim Bob:

    “hatecrime” is starting to show itself as a quick easy method of becoming a victim.

    Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful category or that this particular crime doesn’t fall into that category.

    Felicia:

    Interesting that no one here is even questioning whether hate crime is a useful category of crime in the first place. Why does it matter if libel, vandalism, theft, murder or any other kind of crime is fuelled by hate towards a specific group?

    I go back and forth on whether or not “hate crime” legislation is useful. As I mention in my original comment, I think the word “hate” in the label is misleading and unfortunate. It’s easy to say that the motive doesn’t matter – the act itself is what we should judge and punish. But in courtrooms all around the US, motive matters quite a bit. Sentences can be quite different for perps depending on factors like extreme emotional distress, mental illness, self defense, mistaken identities, etc. etc.

    In the case of what we call “hate crimes” the motive is prejudice against an entire group of people, and the result is intimidation and fear and sometimes worse. Although the legislation isn’t perfect, and perhaps can be abused, I tend to think it’s still useful (and hopefully can be fine-tuned and eventually won’t be needed at all). I think it’s important for the law to deal swiftly and harshly with those who vandalize or threaten or assault or worse because of bigotry, because it sends a powerful message: this is unacceptable and not ever an excuse for criminal activity.

    (Additionally, as has been pointed out already, the cracker incident does not constitute a crime, since the cracker was freely given by the church. If Christians had been freely given flyers or pamphlets by the atheist/agnostic group and then written on them or whatever, that wouldn’t be a crime either.)

  • Polly

    If this is a “love crime”, then so is rape.
    (note that I’m not saying it’s equivalent)

    Ostensibly, they engaged in an act usually meant to express love, i.e. writing nice-sounding words, but what they are actually doing is abridging your rights to your property and free speech and thus oppressing you.

  • Polly

    I oppose any legislation to implement hate crime laws in our so-called justice system.

    The goal of the gov’t in my view, is to prevent ALL crimes. But, the only purpose hate crime laws serve is to censor certain thoughts as if the gov’t isn’t supposed to be neutral about one’s beliefs – evil as as they might be.

    The gov’t most certainly shouldn’t be neutral when it comes to certain acts (crimes), but thoughts shouldn’t be punished. It amounts to the creation of thought crimes. The extra years tacked onto the jail sentence is to punish the thoughts.

    OTOH, I don’t oppose informational tracking of hate crimes. I just don’t want the categorization to affect the punishment. Such data can be of use to policy makers or sociologists.

  • SarahH

    @Polly

    I think I’m pretty much in agreement with you on hate crime legislation. I don’t think that sentence lengths should be different for hate crimes, but I do think that the nature of the motive should be recorded and that it should be a factor in the prosecution and the media surrounding such cases. I think it’s a useful category but I agree, when it comes down to punishment, that the sentence for a hate crime should be the same for a non-hate crime with no mitigating factors (extreme emotional distress, self-defense, etc).

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    cipher Says:

    Ian,

    Have you confronted any of the Christian groups on campus about this?

    I emailed the Christian groups and chaplains on campus asking for statements condemning the act and to forward any information they might have to myself or campus security. Only the Pentecostals have replied that it’s “totally stupid” and are going to formulate an official response.

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    I also find it ironic that so far all the flak I’ve gotten over using that four letter h word has come from the atheist community.

    I put this out there hoping for some support, and instead I get chastised for reacting too quick? How many of your own groups have had to deal with this shit?

    And thanks to Richard Wade for putting it nice and bluntly.

  • David D.G.

    Hemant, your title asks, “Can ‘Showing Love’ Be A Hate Crime?”

    In response, I ask: WHAT love?!? Saying “God loves you” isn’t showing any love whatsoever, especially in this context; at best, it’s attributing it to someone else (i.e., God), but the manner of conveying the message shows anything but a loving attitude here.

    Hugo nailed it thusly:

    Don’t spread your filthy message, I destroy your property!
    But don’t prosecute me because I love you.

    ..
    .
    What! You didn’t make diner! I’ll kick you into the hospital!
    But don’t leave me because I love you.

    ..
    .
    Jesus is coming (not spoken but obvious: to kick your ass to hell!)
    But he loves you

    The second emotion does not remove the hate of the first.

    Spot. On.

    This is unquestionably a hate crime. That doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near as serious as, say, assault or murder, because those are more serious crimes than vandalism — but this still is undeniably hate-motivated vandalism. Whether that makes the crime more heinous than “normal” vandalism is, admittedly, still up for debate — but the motive here is clearly antipathy, NOT “love.”

    The “God loves you” (complete with a heart symbol yet, as if straight from a Hallmark card) only underscores the vivid hypocrisy of the perpetrators’ actions relative to the religion they presumably claim to follow. It most definitely does not negate the hate of the action overall; it merely saturates it with irony.

    ~David D.G.

  • Jason

    If this Christian-lead censorship was organized by a group on campus, I’d move for their immediate disassemblement and the harshest related punishments available (not including things like expulsion, etc, but rather, preventing the organizers to participate in other, similar groups).

    Scribbling all sorts of things to the contrary is a gentle form of vandalism, however, removing contact information seems to be a blatant form of censorship.

    It is so depressing that atheists tend to spend much more time carefully plotting responses to religious dribble, making sure there is no question that we aren’t looking to abridge the freedom of speech of our opponents, looking for a frank and rational response. Depressing, in contrast to garbage like this, where Christian groups like the ones responsible (if there is one) feel they have the inherant ability to do whatever they way to spread their beliefs, calling it “love” by cramming their mythology into our faces.

    I remember reading an article about chaplains in the Air Force, that the extent of their abilities to gain more believers is to “evangelize the unsaved” (paraphrase). This is bogus, and a response that I read to that article was saying “If an Airmen goes to a chaplain for help, he doesn’t need Jesus, he’s just looking for somebody to talk to”.

    Religion has too much protection from criticism. Which is a good thing; critical thought applied to religion destroys it.

  • http://newref.blogspot.com/ James

    They athiest group should take a marker and add “and we’re not even making him clean it up!” under “Jesus is coming.”

  • http://imperfectchurch.ning.com Josh

    David D.G.,

    You and so many others have nailed it on the head. There is no love in what has been done.

    Instead of showing God’s love, which somehow these people thought they were doing; what they have really done is portray God as intolerant and hateful.

    I write as a Christian, who does believe in God. I also believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The biblical text makes it clear that when Jesus Christ, who we as Christians describe as “God in flesh,” walked upon this earth He was not disrespectful or intolerant toward those who did not process to know God. Instead, he reserved his harshest criticism for those who claimed to know him (the religious).

  • Pamela

    This just shows what hypocrites most Christians are. Totally juvenile, as well.

  • JSug

    Yeah, it’s basically: “God loves you… but I hate your guts, so I’m defacing your sign.”

    Ian-
    If you set up a PayPal account for donations, I’d be happy to make a small contribution towards a new sign. I’m sure I’m not alone.

  • Richard Wade

    Ian, you have the opportunity to take the high road here and actually improve the atmosphere on campus. Otherwise it will probably continue to deteriorate into more resentment and enmity.

    Keep the banner up and put up a sign near it saying something like:

    Is vandalism an example of Christian love? Please come talk with us. Let’s come to understand each other.

    Re-attach the email and website info and propose a time and place for dialogue. Graciously invite the various theist groups. Stress that any group is subject to such mistreatment as long as it is permissible to mistreat one. Provide refreshments and be a good host.

    Your group can be a force for positivism, tolerance and rationality.

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  • Nathan Hinman

    I am a member of the Society of Edmonton Atheists, and I support Ian’s assessment of the crime. It is ironic that a poster promoting atheists coming forward and to not be afraid was defaced in such a manner.

    “Jesus is coming” despite rationalizations to the contrary is a threatening statement. It has been used in the past to imply the end is near including the final judgment. While this may not have the more immediate impact of an inverted swastika on a synagogue or a burning cross on the lawn of a non-caucasian homeowner the threat is still there.

    The “Out Campaign” is trying to encourage atheists and non-believers to fight past the fear of reprisal. Atheists can experience varying degrees of discrimination from financial loss up to bodily harm for our beliefs(or lack thereof). Fortunately vandalism is likely the worst we can expect in Edmonton, there are places where death is a consequence of voicing ourselves (just ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

    Some of you have expressed that “Hate Crime” may not be the correct term, but considering the intent was to invoke harm in the form of fear against a targeted group the definition fits.

  • http://www.elyonscircle.com/blogs/Abiz/ Abiz206

    I think thats seriously wrong to vandalize like that….
    ticks me off, and Im a Christian…

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    Richard, thanks again for the insightful comments and suggestions. Rather than leave the banner up (which is a bit embarassing for my group and our campus), we’ve taken to repainting the banner, and making a group-bonding video out of it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q70XfsaQFY

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