To the Editor:

Mr. Otis of Springfield sees a contradiction between First Amendment protection for flag burners and laws against hate crimes. However, his hypothetical examples do not prove his point. Neither burning Martin Luther King in effigy nor displaying a swastika would be a hate crime. Both behaviors would be treated just as we treat flag burning: hateful, obnoxious behavior by hateful, obnoxious people entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. Such protection does such people no favor, but allows them to discredit themselves by exposing themselves publicly for or what they are.

Under Vermont law, a hate crime must be an act that is illegal in the first place, regardless of motive, and which is targeted against an individual or group because of their race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Displaying a swastika at a synagogue might be seen as harassment, or at least trespassing, which are both illegal, and is motivated by hate of a particular religion, thus a hate crime. But the swastika, per se obnoxious and evil, is nevertheless not a hate crime. So the contradiction of which Mr. Otis complains simply doesn & #039;t exist.

However, his underlying position has merit, and he might be surprised to know I agree with him. The Bill of Rights faces threats from the left as well as the right. Even when it doesn & #039;t threaten free speech in a Constitutional sense, "political correctness" certainly undermines the spirit of free and open discourse. If Mr. Otis & #039; point is that free speech applies across the board, he gets no argument from me.



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