Hate crimes were back in the news this summer. Of course, every crime is a hate crime when considered as a sin against charity and against the divinely ordained institution of human government. To this extent all crimes are equal, yet the United States government, while upholding as always the principle of equality, is attempting once again to get around it in devious and dishonest ways, for its own unspecified ends. Following the much-publicized murder in Jasper, Texas, of a black man, James Byrd, Jr., whom three white men are accused of having dragged to death behind a pickup truck, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to amplify the body of existing hate crimes legislation. Current federal law applies to crimes “motivated” by the offender’s dislike of his victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin. The new measure’s sponsors. Senators Edward Kennedy, Arlen Specter, and Ron Wyden, would amend it to add “gender,” sexual orientation, and disability to the attributes specifically designated by the U.S. government as worthy of special—meaning “federal”—protection from “haters” (apparently legion in this country). Although the Jasper incident was presumably related to racial hatred, not machismo, ableism, or normalism, the committee brought the late Mr. Byrd’s daughter, Francis Renee Mullins, all the way from Lufkin, Texas, to lobby for the measure. “I think there should be federal jurisdiction over crimes so hateful,” Ms. Mullins testified. “[T]he laws of the land should punish [the perpetrators].”

Meaning Texas law isn’t “the law of the land”? And punishment is somehow incomplete and unsatisfactory if meted out by a court deriving its authority from a lesser governmental entity than the federal one? Tearful testimony from a bereaved legal simpleton aside, the proposed bill poses all sorts of legal problems, including double jeopardy, the duplication of state laws by the imposition of a federal one, an increase in the already overwhelming burden carried by the federal judiciary—as well as, of course, considerations related to federalist principle and the Constitution of the United States. (Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have laws against hate crimes on the books, and 22 of them include sexual orientation as a protected category.)

There are other reasons, however, to question what is actually going on here. President Clinton endorsed last year’s hate crimes legislation, and a lurid rainbow of women’s, gay rights, black. Latino, and Asian-Pacific American groups demanded it. Organized females, queers, and people of color work hard to make sure that the American majority spends its time—all of it—thinking about them and their concerns, and the President, who is working to build what he calls “a vocabulary that embraces America’s future,” is eager that it should. Last }’ear, when three white ethnics beat up a black boy who had strayed into their neighborhood, Clinton flew to Chicago to offer moral support; more recently, he visited Atlanta to dramatize another white-on-black incident in that city. He had nothing to say, however, regarding a spectacular instance of black-on-white crime in which a gang of black youth attacked three young white teenagers who had jumped a freight train going the wrong way and ended up in the slums of Flint, Michigan, shooting all three in the head and gang-raping the girl; or another, where two blacks in Saginaw abducted a white girl, bound her with duct tape, placed her on the backseat of her own car, and drove around town all night offering her to their friends before raping, sodomizing, and killing her, and leaving the body on the railroad tracks. When it comes to hate crimes, some hate crimes are definitely more hateful than others.

But finally, it is simply none of the government’s business what Americans are thinking when they do anything—or nothing, for that matter. Hate crimes legislation establishes hating as a separate crime from doing, when it is linked to the act of doing. The logical next step—and people who propose laws of this sort are nothing if not “logical”—is to uncouple hating completely from doing, which would amount to the legal recognition of thought crime. That is the destination we are headed for with anti-hate laws. If we ever reach it, it will be owing more to the law of unspoken consequences than of unintended ones.