KOKOMO – You can massage your message in caucus all you want, but it will never change the fact that the real reason that the list of proposed hate crimes was stripped out of Senate Bill 12 was because one of those hate crimes enumerated was against the LGBTQ community.  

Many in the fundamentalist Christian community in Indiana believe passionately that any recognition of the existence of the LGBTQ community is tantamount to governmental acceptance of a lifestyle that they find to be abhorrent, unnatural and against the commandments of the Holy Bible. In addition, these people believe this is just another sinister piece of legislation that will continue to chip away at their cherished beliefs and ultimately be used to impair their religious freedoms.

How do I know this? I read their views on a daily basis. Over the last few years, I have built a tidy sum of Facebook friends who represent a fairly wide spread of political beliefs. Many of the people who I consider to be close friends share the belief that SB12, which originally contained a list of groups protected by the legislation, will be turned against the community of Biblically faithful. Yes, these are the same people who had a conniption fit over the RFRA legislation. I respect their views, but I certainly don’t agree with them.

Opponents of hate crimes legislation are quick to tell you that there are already laws on the books that protect everyone, not just a few listed groups. They will also tell you that judges may take hate into consideration when they consider sentencing. Both of these are true, but they are disingenuous at best and fail to recognize the realities of our modern criminal justice system that rarely sees criminal offenses go to trial. Instead, crimes are bargained down to lower offenses and the judges may not get to apply any additional considerations.

The fact is that there are some crimes that are exclusively motivated by hate and they need to be dealt with as such.  

As I drive around this great state, I frequently see rail cars, overpasses and abandoned buildings with graffiti spray-painted on them. Each of these acts of vandalism is a crime. However, you simply cannot say that spray-painting an overpass is the moral equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue. Defacing a synagogue is a heinous act and must be treated by our laws as such.

If I haul some fallen limbs over into my next door neighbor’s front yard and light them on fire, I have certainly broken existing laws. If that wood happens to be a cross and if my neighbors happen to be black, then I believe that it is a far different crime and worthy of its own consideration.

There is a difference between assault committed against a random victim and assault committed against someone solely because of their race, nationality or sexual orientation. I know, the physical act of the crime is the same, but there is a significant differentiation that should be spelled out in statute.

The opponents of hate crimes legislation spend lots of time and energy parsing words and legalese to defend their position. Most of these opponents fail to express the true underlying reason for their opposition. This reluctance extends into the bowels of the General Assembly. The truth looks very ugly when the thin veneer of legalese is stripped away. I believe that the average opponent of hate crimes legislation would be just fine with a list that included crimes against someone committed solely because of race, religion, nationality or gender. The elephant in the room is the adamant stance of the religious right against recognition of the LGBTQ community as a unique class of people. Simply put, this is RFRA 2.0 and the cast of characters and usual suspects is the same.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has bravely gone where many fear to tread. A significant element in the Republican Party is completely and vehemently against hate crimes legislation. This is a battle that Gov. Holcomb does not have to fight. His sky-high job approval ratings and personal popularity give him a virtual lock on a second term in 2020. Why in this world would the governor spend political capital on an issue that is far more popular in the Democrat Party than among his political base? 

The answer is simple. Great leaders lead whether it is popular or not. Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do. Gov. Holcomb knows and embraces the fact that he is governor of everyone in the state and, as such, must lead his people in the proper direction, whether or not they want to go there.

Indiana is one of only a handful of states that does not have hate crimes legislation on the books. Even Texas, that rock-solid Bible Belt bastion of believers, has hate crimes legislation that lists the protected groups. No one would accuse Texas of slipping into some trap set by the godless, liberal army of Satan that won’t rest until each of our children has been grabbed and forced into government-promoted homosexuality. No, the good ole boys and gals in the Lone Star State still cling to their Bibles and recognize what’s right is right and what’s wrong just ain’t Texan.

If the Hoosier State is to be recognized as the best state in our country to locate a business, work, raise a family and pursue life, liberty and happiness, we simply must shed the political manacles which bind us to petrifying sameness. It is not enough in these highly competitive economic times to point to a great tax structure in an effort to attract good employers. Businesses are looking for the moral equivalent of a Happy Meal. They want the burger, fries, shake and the toy in the box. They demand it and they will get it from someone. If we truly want to recruit great corporations to our state, we will need to recognize the realities of the world we live in. This is not a masked attack on conservative Christian values or just another step in a degenerative progression into the abyss.  It is merely what is good and what is right.

I don’t normally look to the Indiana legislature for examples of courage or leadership. Many key legislators spend their careers being spooked by political shadows real and imaginary. Individually, the overwhelming number of Republican legislators know what is right. They are good people, people of honor and integrity.  

Unfortunately, our political system rewards those who make the most noise and the noise of opposition is definitely louder than the noise of change. In time, I believe that my grandchildren will study Indiana government and read about the heroes of change within the Republican Party who put people above politics. Gov. Holcomb is one of those heroes. Here’s hoping that other heroes will step forward out of the shadows of the insecure and into the light of the morally brave. 

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.