I’ll admit that I was doubly hopeful when President Bush announced his choice of Governor Tom Ridge as his chief of homeland security awhile back. First, I was happy because I truly believe that this post fits a man with Ridge’s background; he seemed a good choice. Second, and honestly more importantly to me, I was happy because I anticipated an improvement in Harrisburg over the eminently-mediocre Ridge as governor of our state. For a time, it seemed that there was reason for hope; Governor Schweiker, if not a standout as governor, seemed to be forging a decent legacy for himself. This, sadly, has proven to be an illusion.

The picture that I’d have preferred to have kept in my mind, you understand, is the one of the governor triumphantly announcing the safe rescue of nine Pennsylvania coal miners. Let’s give credit where it is due: Mr. Schweiker certainly came across as a decent and caring human being throughout that whole affair, much as Rudy Giuliani, for whom I could never cast a vote, handled himself with tremendous grace, compassion, and dignity during the entire 9/11 nightmare. And I’ll even consider the possibility that his action of December 3, as misguided as it was, might have been motivated by some warped understanding of compassion.

But it was that action, that stroke of a pen on December 3, that will remain indelibly etched on my mind as the sad legacy of the Governor. By signing into law H.B. 1493, an amendment to Pennsylvania’s pitiful-enough-as-it-was Ethnic Intimidation Act, Mr. Schweiker abolished equal protection before the law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and at the same time ran roughshod over our First Amendment guarantee of free speech. In so doing, Mr. Schweiker became the stooge of the homosexual lobby, which had poured money and time into the passage of this tragically-flawed bill.

What the bill does is to add the words “ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity” to the list of those who are “protected” by Pennsylvania’s ultra-trendy-but-ultimately-silly “hate crimes” legislation. Simply put, all so-called “hate crimes legislation” takes the ridiculous step of attempting to get inside the mind and motives of the perpetrator of the crime, and to further punish the perpetrator of crimes due to alleged thoughts. So, if your 7-year-old is brutally murdered, the assailant will be punished if convicted, but if a homosexual is brutally murdered, the assailant will now be punished more severely. The life of a person in one of these protected classifications is thus worth more than the life of your young daughter or your elderly mother. This is reprehensible, and only one of the many reasons why hate crimes legislation, while sounding so progressive, is actually a regressive concept.

Beyond this, and perhaps of even more import, is the fact that this insidious bill threatens to muzzle those who would dare to speak their convictions. “Those especially at risk are conservative religious people who may very well find themselves hauled into court unless they keep their mouths shut for being politically incorrect,” said Laurel Lynn Petolicchio, a constitutional activist from Columbia, Pa., adding that, “This legislation basically sets up for a lawsuit against any minister or religious leader who publicly states that certain sexual behavior is immoral or improper. That is in direct violation of the state Constitution.”

Now, I grant that the opposition that Christian people voice, on biblical grounds, to the normalization of homosexual behavior is among the most politically-incorrect positions that one can espouse today. But if the First Amendment means anything, it allows for such speech. What this terrible bill does is to raise the specter of those who dare to speak out in opposition to homosexual behavior being brought to prosecution for somehow inciting violence against homosexuals. I voice my concern and conviction; someone somewhere commits a terrible act of violence against a “protected” person, and I’m an accessory to the crime. For the record, of course, the same Bible that condemns homosexual practice also condemns violence against people on the basis of such behavior—and those who proclaim one ought to vigorously proclaim the other, of course.

Never mind that “hate crimes” is a silly moniker (show me a “love crime”); never mind that “sexual orientation” remains without either supporting scientific evidence or clear definition; never mind that there is no epidemic of such “hate crimes” within the borders of our state. The threat of such apparently demanded immediate attention, constitutional guarantees notwithstanding. Our governor had the opportunity to stop such nonsense; instead, he hid behind silly demagoguery, saying, “By signing this legislation, I am joining the General Assembly in sending a strong, clear message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate violence against anyone — period.” Well, maybe not against people, Mr. Guv’na, but against their rights, their thoughts, and their equal protection before the law, certainly. Why not instead just vigorously prosecute all crime, regardless of alleged motive and blind to the identity of its victim? Wouldn’t that send your “strong, clear message”, Mr. Schweiker? I guess not…

Instead, we squelch free speech, deny equal protection, and employ Orwellian thought police.

Nice legacy, Mr. Governor.

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