If hard cases make bad law, then one especially wrongheaded piece of legislation in Illinois should be known as the Benjamin Smith Prevention Act. Smith was a young white supremacist who went on a rampage north of Chicago in July 1999, killing two people (including the beloved college basketball coach Ricky Birdsong) and wounding nine before he committed suicide.

Smith was a member of the World Church of the Creator, which is led by "the Rev. Matthew Hale, Pontifex Maximus," and publishes such dubious texts as The White Man's Bible, Nature's Eternal Religion, and Salubrious Living. Hale preaches an ideology of paranoia, rage, and self-pity, and Smith acted on it with fatal results. His crime has led Rep. Jeff Schoenberg to propose House Bill 136 in the Illinois General Assembly.

Opposing hate crimes has joined the list of cost-free political commitments, and Schoenberg's bill breezed through the Illinois House on a 96-10 vote in late March. Only a bill affirming belief in motherhood and apple pie could have garnered a more glibly righteous vote. If the bill becomes state law or inspires similar legislation across the nation, Smith's cowardly actions will have inflicted long-term harm on the law and, quite possibly, on religious freedom.

Existing law in Illinois says that a hate crime can be motivated by animus against a person's "perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin." Schoenberg's proposed law would punish anyone who "agrees with another to utilize violence, threats, or intimidation in order to interfere with another person's free exercise of any right or privilege" guaranteed by state or federal constitutions or other laws.

In other words, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: