> > WASHINGTON -- A California jury has convicted Keith Henson, a
> > prominent critic of Scientology, of terrorizing the group through
> > Usenet posts and by picketing one of its offices.
> !!!! Terrible !!!!!
> Is there anything we can do?
I see 2 terrible things about this case: first, the fate of Keith Henson;
second, the First Amendment rights of all Californians.
I don't know whether California's hate crimes statute has ever been reviewed
by the US Supreme Court. I'm not an expert in Constitutional Law and don't
keep up more than casually with US Supreme Court rulings. Maybe someone else
on the list knows whether or not the constitutionality of California's law
has been tested. I suspect it would be held unconstitutional. As far as I
know, in the review of other states' hate crimes laws, the US Sup. Ct. has
held that it's okay to consider "hate" motives at the sentencing phase of
trial, but it's not okay to use such motives to convert otherwise lawful
behavior into criminal activity.
What could we do? If Keith isn't already represented by a team of top-notch
lawyers, we could collect enough money to hire people with the expertise
necessary to sccussfully appeal his case. The news article mentioned that
the Scientologists had their lawyers on hand to assist the DA. We could also
write amicus curiae briefs supporting Keith's position.
We could also publish articles on the Internet and elsewhere using Keith's
and similar cases as examples of the dangers of hate crimes laws. The most
common examples used to support hate crimes legislation are the persecutions
of Christians in the Roman Empire, the persecution of blacks in the southern
US, and the persecution of Jews in Europe. In all of these cases, the
persecution was lawful and even encouraged by the state; in many cases state
officials took part in the persecution. This is qualitatively different from
the case where an isolated individual assaults or murders, motivated by the
victim's race or religion. As long as there are laws against assault and
murder which are applied evenly regardless of the race or religion of either
the perpetrator or the victim, there's no need for hate crimes laws. In
fact, there's abundant evidence that the laws aren't applied evenly in
California and that certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely than
others to be arrested and, once arrested, to be convicted of criminal
behavior. This is where the victims of generalized racial hate suffer the
Another thing we could do--wouldn't help Keith but might help to prevent
this sort of thing in the future--is publish articles and speak out about
the unfairness of tax exemption and other special treatment for churches.
Such special treatment discriminates against non-religious individuals who
are not members of churches. As far as I can tell, the Scientologists run
what's basically a "self improvement" business (not addressing here whether
or not their students are actually "improved"), and there's no logical
reason they should be given more favorable treament under the law than any
other business (Same could be said for other churches. The Scientologists
are certainly not the worst of the world's religions and are not unique in
preying on their members' insecurities and vulnerabilities.). I think it's a
mistake to single Scientologists out as somehow worse than other religions,
or to concentrate on proving that they're not really a church. The
Scientologists' beliefs (parasitic aliens hitching rides on our bodies, or
whatever it is they believe) are no sillier than the beliefs of many other
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