By Herb Silverman
I was horrified when I heard of the tragic murders on February 10 of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My sorrow was compounded when I learned that Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were shot by an atheist, Craig Stephen Hicks.
Media, of course, tried to learn as much as possible about Hicks and his motive for these senseless killings. Speculation included his hatred of religion, disputes over parking spaces, and whether it was a “hate crime.” In Facebook postings, Hicks said, “I hate Islam just as much as christianity, but they have the right to worship in this country just as much as any others do.” Hicks might be more pro-Second Amendment than anti-religion, because one post included a photo of a revolver and the warning, “If you are anti-gun, defriend me NOW!!!” (Several people said Hicks would show up at their door, gun on hip, to complain about a visitor who had parked in someone else’s spot.)
While the atheist community and the rest of the country are unified in condemning this terrible act, there is no such unanimity about hate crimes. When Congress was planning to expand hate crime laws to add “sexual orientation,” I got a lot of pushback from my liberal friends for opposing this legislation. I was also in the unfamiliar position of being praised by a blogger for the Wall Street Journal who said, “Herb Silverman eloquently articulates what we’ve written before — that at best, the law could be merely symbolic and, at worst, the law could lead to strange outcomes.”
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