State Sen. Steve Russell said the recently signed federal hate crimes legislation oversteps the Constitution. He’s authored a bill that will be introduced in the State Senate in 2010 to protect Oklahomans from encroachments on speech, assembly and religious beliefs.
“Oklahoma currently has tough, good laws that include hate crimes laws. Any murder or brutal assault is hateful. That is the problem with singling out something more with this federal law,” said Russell, R-Oklahoma City. “I believe this legislation far exceeds the powers of government over states as outlined in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I am also very concerned that this loosely defined and ill-conceived legislation could be used to target people’s belief, freedom to associate in groups, right to assemble on issues, as well as target people’s right to free speech.”
Under Russell’s proposed legislation, Oklahoma courts would bar the admission of any evidence not directly related to a crime when dealing with issues related to speech, assembly and belief.
“For example, if a minister, rabbi or imam preached to a congregation about immoral issues, and then someone took that message to an extreme and actually committed a crime, neither the minister nor the congregation could be charged themselves,” Russell explained. “There would have to be something that directly connected a person or group to the planning or execution of the crime.”
A further measure of the legislation would protect Oklahoma’s right to investigate and prosecute as the state sees fit. If Oklahoma law enforcement officers or district attorneys were investigating a crime that they deemed to be a murder and federal authorities later deemed it was a hate crime and took over the investigation as allowed by the new federal statute, Oklahoma law enforcement would be prohibited from cooperating with the federal investigation in any way.
“Basically, if Oklahoma decided a case that the Feds later wanted to overturn, they would be on their own—we would not share evidence or manpower,” Russell said.
Russell said in no way would he discourage the prosecution of any individual who assaults or murders another, nor would his proposed bill interfere in cases that Oklahoma deemed appropriate under existing state hate crimes laws.
“If a crime has been committed, the perpetrator must be held accountable. My concern is that someone may take this new federal hate statute and use it as a way to actually criminalize personal speech, lawful association and religious beliefs,” Russell said. “That would be a direct assault on the freedoms this nation was founded upon, and I hope to protect Oklahomans from that erosion of freedom with my legislation. I would also hope other states would follow our lead in defending personal liberty with similar measures.”