A Dangerous Verdict in New Jersey


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New Jersey jury on Friday convicted a Rutgers freshman of “bias intimidation,” among several other charges. Dharum Ravi had set up a webcam in the dorm room he shared with Tyler Clementi, and then posted footage online of Clementi being intimate with another man. Three days later Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Ravi faces up to ten years in prison or deportation to India.

This verdict promises to have malign effects beyond the problems of hate-speech laws already long recognized. Most important, it will make it easier for Muslim organizations to achieve in the United States what they have in Europe: criminalizing legitimate and fact-based criticism of Islam by disguising it as “hate speech,” thus enlisting our criminal justice system in the enforcement of shari’a-based blasphemy laws.

Ravi’s conviction has dangerously expanded the already over-broad and subjective statutes against “hate crimes,” which are for the most part based on words and attitudes. Such laws are an attempt to criminalize preferences disapproved of by some political ideologies, and they are based on dubious social psychology theories about how “hate speech” creates a “climate of fear” that legitimizes and hence increases physical violence or harassment against protected groups. The problem with such laws, however, is that in practice they are selective, protecting politically favored constituencies while excluding other groups such as Christians, Jews, straight white males, or conservatives. Worse yet, what constitutes “hate speech” is highly subjective and reductive, ignoring the specific contexts and intentions that contribute to any speech act. Finally, under the Constitution, we are free to dislike whomever we wish for whatever reason we wish, no matter how much such dislike disturbs others. And subject to strict “fighting words” constraints, under the First Amendment we have the right to express that dislike in speech, including speech others may find offensive.

In short, “hate crime” laws represent another dangerous government intrusion into social and political life at the expense of freedom, all in an attempt to create some utopian world in which nobody ever feels bad, and social relations are without strife and conflict. Yet this goal is impossible given human nature and the great variety of people and their beliefs, some of which they passionately hold and consider foundational to their identities and the meaning of their lives. In a free society that by law gives people the right to express these beliefs and preferences, there inevitably will be clashes, and these disagreements won’t always be conducted with the decorum of a Jane Austen novel. Thus freedom of speech necessarily entails accepting that occasionally one will be insulted or offended. But that’s the price we pay for that freedom, for the alternative is the creation of legal limitations that inhibit speech by using the coercive power of the state to threaten or silence disagreeable political views.

The more dangerous consequence of such legislation, the illegitimate expansion of the scope of hate crime offenses, is what has taken place in the Ravi case. What Ravi did could be considered mean or boorish, but given he was a freshman in college at the time, such behavior is to be expected of a callow youth. There was no evidence presented that Ravi personally was homophobic, no past record of harassing or intimidating homosexuals. In fact, there was not any “hate speech” at all, just a subjective interpretation of his actions as the fuzzy crime “bias intimidation.” As a result, this verdict has broadened the categories “hate” and “bias” to criminalize immaturity––as long as the victim is a member of a protected group. If the roles were reversed, and Clementi had posted videos of Ravi having sex with a woman, nobody would have cared how humiliated or shamed Ravi became, even if he committed suicide.

As a result of this expansion, this verdict contributes to that “chilling” effect on free speech that the ACLU selectively complains about. People who disagree about the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, for example, or resist the attempt to normalize homosexuality, now face the possibility that their opinions, if expressed in ways subjectively interpreted as “hurtful,” could be construed as “bias intimidation” or a “hate crime” or “bullying,” and hence subject to legal sanctions. After all, if normal freshman boorishness can be criminalized, anything can. Already the threat of such prosecution lurks behind every charge of “sexism” or “racism” or “homophobia.” We saw this tactic in the recent uproar over Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which a Washington Post blogger called “hate speech” that “crossed into the realm of sexual harassment.” That is, as something that the power of the government can punish. Such threats can lead to self-censorship and an environment that is hostile to free speech.

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  • Anamah

    It would be interesting to hear strategies for the freedom of speech defense. The notable thing is that Islamic threats verbal and other are constant and willing to overcome our normal life. Also is notable the danger of organizations in total impunity pushing the bar against freedom of speech of private news agencies, TV, radio and political commentators personalities under false allegations. We are living in a very toxic moment and place, our country values in great danger. . We must honor our history of freedom and the greatness of America. We need to honor and defend our Constitution. Our judges and politicians must do the same.

  • rasmus

    I agree very much with your worries over fluffy law. But I would argue that this is not just an immature prank – if a woman was taped while having sex in private and the video posted online she would most probably be incapable of ever running for public office as this would always resurface and turn her into a joke, shame her children etc, not to mention many would be so ashamed that they would quit their university etc. To a great extend this goes for men too, particularly if their private time was somehow embarrassing. Personally, I can hardly imagine anything non-violent worse. In this time of ever-present video-recording a lot of young people are suffering from the consequences of being filmed knowing or unknowingly and it is a legitimate field for the law to step up and protect privacy. I truly consider this a vile and gross violation of their most private lives, and I would support un-fluffy laws persecuting this severely.

    • tagalog

      The typical college-aged man filmed having sex that gets widely circulated in a video would probably be hollering "Hooah!" and feeling mighty studly.

    • tagalog

      The typical college-aged man filmed having heterosexual sex that gets widely circulated in a video would probably be hollering "Hooah!" and feeling mighty studly. Today's modern woman would probably be joining him, beers in hand.

    • tagalog

      The typical college-aged man filmed having heterosexual sex that gets widely circulated in a video would probably be hollering "Hooah!" and feeling mighty studly, getting slapped on the back by his buds. Today's modern woman would probably be joining him, beers in hand.

    • tagalog

      The typical college-aged man filmed having heterosexual sex that gets widely circulated in a video would probably be hollering "Hooah!" and feeling mighty studly, getting slapped on the back by his admiring buds. Today's modern woman would probably be joining him, beers in hand.

      • Amused

        Well it wasn't and it didn't .

  • kentatwater

    There was no evidence presented that Ravi personally was homophobic…

    Nor should it even be relevant. If an act is proscribed by law, let there be a trial and punishment. A jury really can't know what's in a man's mind or a man's heart, nor should such matter. Did he do the act? If relevant, was there premeditation? These are the questions that matter.

    Orwell may have gotten the date wrong by a few decades, but we are heading down the road to thoughtcrime. I bear no animosity toward homosexuals. I support organizations like "Pink Pistols," whose mandate is similar to that of JPFO, which is the preservation of Second Amendment rights, with a focus on a minority which has been historically subjected to violence. However, in a recent conversation with a friend, the subject came up, and I told him I was opposed to homosexual marriage, and that even the very idea was an oxymoron. He replied with a surprised, "I never knew you were a homophobe!"

    A boorish comment or cartoon posted on a cubicle wall, can destroy a man's career, nowadays. "Isms" metastasize.

    • Rick_in_VA

      Your "friend" is a good indication of what is happening here and now.
      I hope the conviction is appealed and overturned. That was in New Jersey afterall.
      I doubt seriously if the same conclusion would have been reached in Virginia. We still have some common sense here.,

    • aspacia

      Yes, kentawater,

      There are flaws in the author's claim. No one knows what another thinks, and we do not know what will happen if this or that occurs. It is a stretch to compare Ravi being taped having hetero sex and committing suicide to a gay guy having sex.

      Ravi was convicted of: "Former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation Friday in a webcam spying case that focused national attention on the harassment of gay teenagers."

      The invasion of privacy conviction is sound, however, the bias and intimidation can cause huge restrictions on our freedoms.

  • http://understandingevil.wordpress.com dion

    I had a movie of my embarassing and disgusting behavior spread over several campuses. I am Jewish, and a frequent conclusion by viewers was that my behavior was due to that fact. Showing a movie like this does have a lot of bad consequences (in my case, it resulted in a small mafia of sadists did things to me far beyond just showing a movie) but I can certainly see the problem in classifying acts as 'hate acts' that need to be surpressed. People are entitled to their opinions, even if these opinions involve criticism of a group, a religion, and ideology etc.

    • aspacia

      dion, if the movie is false, you can sue. What concerns me is the concept of hate speech when citizens discuss a group's behavior. This could be turned into neoNazis suing for Jews using hate speech. This is the problem.

  • NoMoreHate

    This is clearly social conservative political bias and simple homophobia masquerading as fact-based legal commentary. Most of the comments are clearly generated by naifs that have never experienced any real threat to their lives and livelihoods at the hands of biggoted, small-minded trolls

    • Poppakap

      ..speaking of small-minded trolls. Irony was never expressed with such clarity.

    • kentatwater

      Thank you for the object lesson on the dangers of groupthink and thoughtcrime.

      If you honestly think that the Jewish leadership of this website, and the Jewish poster to these threads, have not experienced bigotry, you are the one who is self-righteously deluded.

    • mrbean

      How do you fell about the black-on-white rape epidemic, black on white mob bullying in schools, black teen age and older flashmobs robbing stores all across America. All this is a fact and not social conservative political bias. Homophobia, Islamophobia, Xenophobia are the vicious psychologizing of language by leftists as a defense against anyone who won't sanction not just tolerate sexual deviancy debauchery, or politcal reglious cult, or open borders for illegals in the United States. I suppose you endorse gay marriage too which is a perversion of holy matrimony. Maybe they should call it "Holey Buggary" for homosexual men and "Holey Muffery" for lesbians.

    • pagegl

      Hate is going to happen, it's human nature. Also, what one person defines as hate may not be for another. For example, if I use the N word chances are I will be accused of hate, if a coworker and friend uses the same word folks will assume he's just pretending to be from the hood. Hate crimes are nothing more than a thought control process designed to favor groups given special status by those defining the hate crime. If being stupid is a hate crime, and being stupid is all that was proven in the case described, a decent case could be made that many on the left should be in jail. I would hazard a guess, given you have presented no real arguments pro of con concerning the discussion, instead just tossing out unbased attacks, you would be one of them.

    • aspacia

      NoMoreHate,

      First, my exhusband stuck a gun in my face twice, once in front of my 3 year old son. Second, I am currently a high school teacher, and have been threaten 3 times by black students, one male and two female for asking them to refrain from using profanity or moving to their assigned seat.

      Nomorethough, you are committing the fallacy of stereotyping and ad hom attacks for our views regarding freedom of speech and our concern about hate speech. You have not made any significant contribution to this thread, so why not refrain from posting until you have a valid claim.

  • JanSuzanne

    And the same threat to human rights is occuring in Florida. These judicial decisions are door-openers for Sharia law to enter our judicial system and create a parallel court system…Extremely dangerous. Just look at the UK. In 2008 one sharia court was permitted and within 1 year there were over 85! Watch out America…we are on the same path. The UK is now in grave trouble because they are unable to roll back what has already taken hold and the Muslim population that is beginning to swell. The Sharia complient neighborhoods are expanding as frightened non-Muslim residents are moving out…This is how Islam will take over without radical terrorism. We must ban all foreign laws from our states…and make it a federal ban as well as limit Muslim immigration to those who will accept the laws of the US before Sharia law.

  • kentatwater

    Yes, Poppakap. I missed the troll's doublethink, as well.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

      Are you allowed to say that with the new thought-police watching?

  • JanSuzanne

    Sorry…I posted my previous comment on the wrong article

  • mrbean

    In the movie Dirty Harry, Harry Calahan is cutting through the park at night and proposition by young homosexual man and tells him to "Get outta here" The little queer whine with tears in eyes, "if you don't want me I am going to kill myself." Harry says, " Then go home and do it I don't need all the hassle of that paperwork I will have to do." Could Dirty Harry be charged with hate crime for "hurting the feelings" if the little twinkie went home and killed himself?

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

      In today's pc world, probably.

  • maturin20

    It might even be a travesty of all American freedom under the Constitution and not merely for people who want to persecute Muslims. Fancy that.

  • Amused

    I really don't know if I'd classify this as a "hate crime " , however there was a criminal act perpetrated .And that is invasion of privacy at the very least .My guess here is that the sentence will be a light one since the whole case sets a precedent in many grey areas .
    What I find more remarkable than the case itself , is the animus found here against the victim. Ths however is not a-typical of the social conservative mindset which seems to permeate the broken Republican party . Morons like Santorum and the approval he finds amongst those portions of Republicans therefore is no surprise . There are in fact those in the Republican Party who are attempting to legislate LEGAL HARRASSMENT against those "unchristian people " who would dare put their views in public .

    • testificari

      I support Santorum and I don't see him here or anywhere else attacking this victim. That is your own crooked construct from your imagination. Own it.

      • Amused

        reading comprehension is a wonderfull thing ……you oughta try learning it . " See the dog run " may be your limit , I suggest you expand your horizons , especially before running your mouth .

  • Amused

    As for any connection to "Sharia Law " ? The defendant is from India , he may not even be muslim .He may be Hindu or even christian , I dont think that his religious background has been brought up . Indeed if NO RELIGIOUS VALUES at all were at play here , the defendent clearly broke privacy laws .So it really isn't a religious issue at all . Anyone who thinks the defendents actions fall under the protection of First Amendment rights , is sadly mistaken .

  • tagalog

    A crime is a crime. If it's accompanied by hate, isn't that more or less the prevailing state of mind (or one of them)? A crime used to have two elements: (1) the requisite mental state, i.e., the intent to do that which constitutes the crime, coupled with (2) the act that constitutes the crime. A crime that is defined as having only a bad mental state is clearly a thought crime; what else could it be?

    If I commit an assault, that means I intended to harm the victim, and did in fact cause the victim some physical injury. If I commit a harassment, that means I intended to annoy or alarm the victim, and then committed some act that meets the definition (such as pushing, shoving, or insulting or challenging, or following the victim). Punishing a person for feeling hate is such a mushy kind of thing, only a person living with the predispositions of these post-Soviet latter days could have come up with it.

    In this case, the victim Clemente was openly gay; so how did outing him constitute a crime? In an earlier, more sensible time, it might have constituted an invasion of Clemente's privacy and be actionable as a civil case for money damages. Hell, Clemente could probably have gotten a six-figure judgment.

  • Amused

    Here's a hypothetical litmus test for all you "legal eagles " .
    You and your wife , for whatever reason , have come under suspicion of the DEA . They get the warrants for wiretap and video surveillance . In the process they get you and the little woman on tape , in some of your more private moments ….kinks, toys , and all . So nothing happens , you two are innocent , you're not selling drugs , DEA got a bad tip .The investigation's closed . That is until you and the wife go viral on the internet ….why ? How ? One of the DEA agents thought it would be a good joke .

    Was there any law broken ?

    • testificari

      Yes because a government agency did it. It is undoubtedly against their rules for obvious reasons.

    • aspacia

      If the DEA did this, yes, this would be illegal use of government property which would result in a fine at the very least.

    • tagalog

      Public or private releaser, there's been a release of matters that are commonly kept private, and to which there's a reasonable expectation of privacy. So there's (at minimum) an action for money damages for the tort of invasion of privacy. The government is immune from suit for intentional wrongs, but the individuals aren't; of course, they might be judgment-proof. Depending on how the videos were made, there might be some form of negligence involved for the deep-pocket government, such as negligent supervison of the DEA agents who released your videos on the Net. I don't know if releasing videos taken of me and the wife doing kinky things is covered by the warrant the DEA had to get, but both the subject-matter and the releasing almost certainly weren't asked for or contemplated by the judge when the warrant was granted, so there might be criminal contempt of court. And of course, there are DEA policies to consider that might cause the agents to lose their jobs.

      On the other hand, if my wife and I were openly kinky, our cause of action might not have a lot of force and credibility, and might therefore pale a bit as it went forward. It's kind of like defamation of character actions, or a whore alleging rape: maybe there's a wrong done, but does the plaintiff REALLY want his character revealed by witnesses in open court?

      The one thing it's not is a hate crime, just the kind of low-life behavior certain kinds of people think is cool.

      • Amused

        You're wrong , the government is NOT immune ./Go check the legal precedents mr. legal eagle . And btw , if the hypothetical offending DEA agent stated oh , these two are jews , let this thing go viral …..that would constitute a hate crime . And uh how can one be considered "openly kinky ' if in the privacy of their own home ?
        LOL…I can see how easily we bend the virtues [or lack thereof ] of free speech .

        • tagalog

          1. No one mentioned the "these two are Jews" condition when the original question was first asked; my personal and professional view is that videotaping a person in his own home doing private "kinky" acts is not made any worse because the taping was motivated by religious bias;

          2. The Federal Tort Claims Act preserves governmental immunity for intentional acts, as I said. Perhaps you can enlighten me on the "legal precedents" you refer to;

          3. One can be "openly kinky" in their own home if they hold themselves out to be kinky and are known as such to their friends and associates, as with swingers, internet sex types, and spouse-swappers;

          4. I'm not sure how you're getting free speech out of secretly videotaping someone, which is clearly an act -solely an act- involving no expressive content that I can imagine; perhaps you can explain that to me.

          So what is the "litmus test" you refer to all about? What classifications does one fall into? How are those classifications arrived at?

  • umustbkidding

    POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS – TYRANNY WITH GOOD MANNERS

    This is what happens when as a nation we have turned our backs on GOD. Everyone thinks they are right and only ones that are making the rules get to skate for free. In a society that is as debased as ours the ones that are making the rules are the ones that are oppressors.

    Evil is far more cunning than honest people just minding their own business.

    • aspacia

      You sound this one of the Puritan characters from The Crucible, pathetic.

  • testificari

    It is very tragic that Tyler Clementi CHOSE to kill himself. To deny us all rights of free expression because some people are cruel is dangerous indeed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mose.eibeen Mose Eibeen

    traditional upbringing he got was justification for whatever he did. Clemente ceased to be a person. Probably if Clemente had not killed himself, Ravi would have gotten away with it or ithe whole thing would have been minimized. <a title="Polo franklin marshall" href="http://www.fashion-pascher.org/19-franklin-marshall">Polo franklin marshall

  • cjk

    This has everything to do with the furthering of Sharia Law in the USA by Mohammedans. If you can't see that, you're either stupid, ignorant, or just being disingenuous.

  • aspacia

    The latter part of the sentencing does indeed connect to Sharia Law: "bias intimidation," translates into hate speech which many in the West have been prosecuted. First, it was criminalizing Holocaust denial, now translates into people like Wilders, Fallaci, et al being prosecuted and necessitating a huge economic cost to defend themselves.

  • cjk

    Maybe we can discuss what color the color red is afterward?