Here's a link to a thought-provoking article about the matter of hate crimes, which ought to be a matter of deep concern to those who deeply believe that our criminal justice system ought to actually be fair and just:
I find it particularly interesting that Jeff Jacoby's article on this subject appears in Jewish World Review. Based on his surname, I suspect that he's Jewish. If anyone might be expected to endorse an approach to criminal justice which is ostensibly designed to penalize people for committing crimes against people on account of factors such as ethnicity, it would be the Jews --- due, obviously, to their extensive personal familiarity with that subject, as the victims (or descendants of victims) of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, Mr. Jacoby is clearly a thinking person, and he isn't buying the idea that crimes committed for such reasons should be punished more severely than comparably vicious crimes committed for more "mundane" reasons.
I agree. Hate crimes legislation may seem benign — after all, one would have to be morally dense indeed in order to fail to appreciate the socially destructive effect of crimes motivated by racism or other similar factors — but the effect of such laws is to penalize people disproportionately, not because of what they do, but because of what they believe. That represents an egregious violation of the principles on which a free society is built, especially when it represents a "Pandora's box" which can potentially lead to censorship of ideas (such as opposition to homosexuality) deemed unacceptable by people on certain ends of the political spectrum. Laws against hate crimes are a form of coercive social engineering, and such laws have the potential to seriously undermine the constitutional right to free speech.
One can believe that racism is wrong without advocating the infringement of people's right, as American citizens, to be wrong and to express wrongheaded beliefs. We must be very careful not to blur the line between laws which forbid acts which actually cause harm and laws which forbid the expression of ideas we believe to be harmful.
My intention in saying this is not to excuse hate crimes. However, the proper response to true hate groups such as the KKK and the Nazis is to create a social climate in which such groups cannot prosper, by collectively letting them know in no uncertain terms that their ideas and activities are socially unacceptable. If and when crimes are committed for reasons related to racism or other types of bigotry, they should be prosecuted in a manner which is proportionate to the severity of the crimes themselves, regardless of why they might have been committed.
Only God, who is omniscient, is in a position to accurately and fairly assess motives. Our courts, which are run by fallible judges and fallible jurors, should not be in the business of judging motives. It is more than enough of a challenge for most people to assess the truth with regard to whether or not specific individuals actually committed specific illegal acts.
UPDATE: Here's a link to another good article about the subject of hate crimes --- written by Chuck Norris.