Please, people, can we all agree that the vandalization of a satanic statue is not a “hate crime?"
The already problematic modern prosecution of “hate crimes” reached a farcical level when a Navy veteran was charged with that offense for destroying a statue erected by the Satanic Temple of Iowa. The statue had been in the Iowa Capitol under a state policy allowing religious displays there during the holidays. The Satanic Temple says it does not worship any deity, but instead is dedicated to promoting secularism. Its goal, in its own words, is to promote “effective and artful protest.” Its display at the Iowa Capitol was not really a free expression of religion but instead a mockery of it.
The veteran who destroyed the statue is Michael Cassidy, a former congressional candidate in Mississippi, who said he considered the statue to be “blasphemous.” Originally, and correctly, Polk County charged him with fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. No matter what the motivation, nobody has a right to destroy someone else’s legal property without punishment. It is wrong and illegal to tear down a satanic statue without a permit, just as it is wrong and illegal to tear down a statue of Jesus Christ, Thomas Jefferson or Robert E. Lee.
For whatever reason, though, Polk County prosecutors decided the original criminal charge wasn’t serious enough. A document made public on Jan. 30 now charges him with third-degree criminal mischief, carrying steeper punishment as a hate crime “in violation of individual rights.” Even if one buys into the notion that “hate crimes” merit stiffer penalties than the same illegal actions motivated by something other than hate, this new charge against Cassidy is a terribly ill-advised application of such laws.
While the group dubiously calls itself a “religious organization” (probably for legal reasons), it openly admits its main goal is the “mobilization of politically aware Satanists [and others]” while “learning about and discussing Satanic philosophy and activism … and taking political action for common goals.” If a group that worships nobody or no entity (such as “Mother Earth” or “nature”) repeatedly describes its major goal as “political action” and “activism,” it’s really a pressure group rather than a religion. Even if, to avoid lawsuits, Iowa state government allows the group to erect a statue where other religions do, as part of allowing free expression of religion in the public square, that doesn’t mean prosecutors are obliged to indulge the satanists’ charade.
Cassidy here was engaged in an act of vandalism, pure and simple. It was not an act of “hate” as commonly understood, and it was motivated by his disgust at the satanists’ deliberate mockery of the free exercise of religion. The satanists openly say their own conception of “justice … should prevail over laws and institutions.” Rather than being a real religion, they hate religions as the rest of the world commonly understands that term, and they want to “prevail over” the laws that protect religion. What Cassidy destroyed was their property, not their “individual rights” as a “religion.”
Prosecutors enjoy broad discretion as to what offense they charge defendants with. There is no good reason for them to choose an enhanced penalty just to humor the satanists’ mockery of and hatred of others.
Beyond those specifics, the entire notion of “hate crimes” as generally practiced is troublesome. Vandalism is vandalism and murder is murder. A murder victim is just as dead if he was shot because he is Black or homosexual or a satanist as he is if he were shot because he was driving a vehicle that bad guys wanted to carjack. Why should the carjacking victim’s loved ones deserve to see those attackers penalized less severely merely because their loved ones didn’t enjoy protections from “hate”?
At the very least, prosecutors should not overuse “hate crimes” statutes when their applicability is dubious. It may be a trendy criminal charge to make, one applauded by leftist intelligentsia — but prosecutors’ efforts are better spent reining in the criminal underworld than in kowtowing to those who adopt the name of the eternal underworld’s evil king.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a senior commentary writer and editor for the Washington Examiner, where this column first appeared. He can be reached at Qhillyer@WashingtonExaminer.com. His other columns appear at www.washingtonexaminer.com/author/quin-hillyer.