HURRICANE, UT — A man has been sentenced to a year in federal prison for the contents of a letter he wrote to a neighbor, which prosecutors called a “hate crime.”
Robert Keller, age 71, was convicted of violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act (42 U.S. Code § 3631), which states:
Whoever… intimidates or interferes with… any person because of his race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin… and because he is… occupying… any dwelling… shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
The cause of Mr. Keller’s federal charge was an anonymous, angry letter written to a neighbor. He had grown incensed that an interracial couple was living in his neighborhood and expressed that they should move to Africa.
Because his letter, written December 30, 2013, had intimidated a member of a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, it was considered to be illegal speech. U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse issued him the maximum sentence: one year in federal prison, a $1,000 fine, and 260 hours of community service.
“Obliviously, racism still exists today. It lives, and it breathes next door in our neighborhoods,” federal prosecutor Carlos Esqueda said in court. “Justice needs to be firm, and justice needs to be swift.”
It is interesting to note that if the angry letter had singled out the neighbor because of any other reason — personality, economic status, occupation, hobbies, habits, pets, hairstyle, et cetera — there would be no federal charge.
There is no defending the letter, which contained misspelled racial slurs and threats. However, there are a few reasons to object to the actions of the federal government:
1. Creating protected classes in law is an injustice in and of itself. Justice should be colorblind, and never hinge on who was victimized or who is on trial. Favoritism results in disparity in punishments — making injustice inevitable. The concept of “hate crime” should not exist in law.
2. The federal government has a mandate that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” There are no exceptions written in the Bill of Rights. If the First Amendment is inadequate, let the nation have a debate about why it should be changed. Until then, it is not up to Congress to regulate speech.
3. The constitution provides a clearly enumerated set of powers of the federal government in Article 1, Section 8. The list does not include any authority to regulate interpersonal relationships or civilian housing. An informed view of the constitution would indicate that the federal government has wildly escaped the boundaries of its charter.
Hatred toward others is nothing to be condoned, but it is also no valid excuse to undermine the Bill of Rights and expand the federal government.