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Indiana must pass a law on hate crimes

In a case of good news coming out of bad, a heinous act in Hamilton County during the weekend may have been the tipping point for Indiana to finally pass hate crimes legislation.

Passing such a bill should be a priority in the 2019 legislative session and would be long overdue.

Vandals painted anti-Semitic symbols on the wall of property at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla on West 116th Street in Carmel. Nazi flags and iron crosses were painted on walls of a shed on the property and burn marks were also found nearby.

The middle-of-the-night act of hatred and cowardice prompted Gov. Eric Holcomb to quickly call for the General Assembly to pass a hate crimes law. Perhaps the Republican-controlled legislature will listen to the Republican governor, who understands the significance of taking up the issue.

“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced.

“For that reason, it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation – and not 1 of 5 states without it.”

The need for such legislation has been debated by lawmakers before, including the past three legislative sessions. During the 2018 session, Senate Republicans killed the hate crimes bill early in the session with now-retired Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) saying his caucus could not reach agreement about what should be in it. The bill essentially would have let judges impose tougher sentences for crimes aimed at individuals based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex.

Social conservatives have been the main opponents of the bill, arguing that such a law would create special classes in which certain crime victims were treated differently from others.

That argument essentially discounts the need for civil rights laws that protect some classes of people from being treated unfairly because of their gender, race, religion or disability, for instance.

And it’s not an argument with majority support. A survey conducted by Ball State University and Old National Bank in 2017 showed 65 percent of Indiana residents were in favor of a hate crime law.

Now, the case in Carmel adds an affluent, suburban exclamation mark to incidents of hate that have happened from one end of the state to the other without response from the state’s lawmakers.

It’s important that in 2019 Indiana’s legislators finally pass a law that imposes tougher sentences for crimes motivated by race, religion, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s time for Indiana to join 45 other states that have done so, leaving Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming as outliers that don’t believe hatred of a whole group of people should be considered an aggravating circumstance in sentencing.

– Bloomington Herald-Times