Parvonay Stover of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office says the state doesn’t need a hate crimes law.

“Passing this bill will send a false message to Hoosiers, particularly those in minority or disadvantaged communities, that they will be more protected under this so-called biased crimes law than they are today,” he told the Senate committee considering the measure. “That’s simply not true.”

The proposed law, he said, wouldn’t give judges any tools they didn’t already have. 

“It seems like the idea of getting Indiana off of the naughty list is more important than the substance of what we actually pass,” he said.

Let’s assume, for a second, that he’s right. So what?

In some respects, the proposed law really is about optics. It says Indiana is a welcoming state. It says hate crimes won’t be tolerated here.

Everyone following this debate knows by now that Indiana is one of five states in the country without such a law. The others are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Do we really want to stay on that list?

Many in the state’s business community say no.

“The fact we do not have a hate crimes law is a very negative factor in our state’s reputation,” Jim Morris, vice chairman of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, said at that same committee hearing.

Marya Rose, chief administrative officer for Columbus-based Cummins Inc., also spoke in favor of the measure.

“We have existing employees who have asked to be relocated outside of Indiana because they do not feel welcome and safe here,” she said. “We also know that top talent has chosen not to work for us because they would have to move to Indiana.”

Passions run high on both sides of this debate. Religious conservatives see the proposed law as a threat to their constitutional rights.

Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne asked the committee whether it was possible to speak against the law without being labeled a hater.

“Equal rights are equal rights,” he said. “Special protections simply weaponize the left.”

Let’s be clear. The proposed law does not outlaw bias. It does not silence racists. It does not prohibit religious conservatives from speaking out against homosexuality. 

Such speech will continue to be protected under the First Amendment.

The proposed law addresses crimes inspired by hatred, by bias, by fear of the foreign and the different.

The law would say that an attack on a gay man because he is gay is different from an attack motivated by jealousy or greed. It would say an attempt to frighten adherents of a particular religion by painting a swastika on their church is not the same as some other form of graffiti.

Supporters of the proposed law suffered a setback when the Indiana Senate stripped language listing specific forms of bias that would be punishable under the measure, but Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray of Martinsville defended the change.

“This conversation has always been philosophical,” he said. “Do you include a list in which you can maybe leave somebody off … or do you make it more general so that everybody can be included?”

I won’t claim to be an expert on the legal niceties of this discussion. It’s possible, I suppose, that a law without a specific list would provide just as much protection as a law that had one.

Still, why fight over it? The goal here is to send a message. Supporters argue the state needs a law that is clear, specific and inclusive in listing the characteristics to be protected.

Why not give it to them?

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