Editorial by John Ziegler

Is It What You Do, Or What You Believe?


For years, so-called civil rights groups have been clamoring for "hate crime" legislation to be passed so that violent offenses against members of protected groups would be considered more serious and, therefore, punished more harshly, than those committed on "regular" Americans. Despite the seemingly obvious problem that such law clearly violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, while also dangerously dictating punishment partially on the basis of thoughts rather than actions, the news media has provided this movement with more than enough oxygen for it to make remarkable (some may say disturbing) progress.

Now we have evidence here in Pennsylvania that not only can one's beliefs be taken into account when being punished for a crime against a member of a special "minority" group, but also that the same contorted "logic" can be used in reverse when the one CONVICTED of a crime qualifies for these extraconstitutional protections. There may be no greater recent example of the incredible extent to which such unsound thinking has silently infected our judicial system and our culture than the case of the Penn State student convicted of rape who is still scheduled to graduate with his class.

In August of 1999 Penn State student Jean Celestin, who has black skin and is from Haiti, raped a fellow female student, who is white. After being convicted of sexual assault (a crime exceedingly difficult to prove, especially in a case where the victim has admitted to being drunk at the time), on November 19th of this year Centre County Curt Judge Thomas K. Kistler crafted a remarkable sentence for Celestin.

The sentencing guidelines for such a conviction indicate a three to six year jail term. Citing a clean record and numerous character references (including many from members of the school's Black Caucus), Kistler gave Celestin just six months to a year in jail, and, even more amazingly, allowed Celestin, who is appealing his conviction, out on bail until five days after his coming graduation. The Centre District Attorney is now appealing Celestin's sentence.

Penn State, essentially dodging the issue by saying that its own disciplinary process will not be completed in time, has said that Celestin is welcome to attend graduation, but that his diploma may be revoked at a later date. Meanwhile, the victim in the case has since dropped out of school, she says, largely because of the crime Celestin committed against her.

The Penn State Black Caucus (a group of which Celestin was an active member) has come out strongly in support of the judge's ruling and Celestin's right to graduate. They say that Celestin didn't get a fair trial because only one member of his jury (picked from a mostly white community) was black. They didn't say if they felt that he could only be "fairly" tried and convicted by an all "black" jury, or how many Haitians had to be on the panel for it to be legitimate.

The Penn Sate Student Government Senate actually passed a resolution commending Kistler. The sponsor of the measure justified its backing of a rapist by saying what Celestin did "was a disastrous error in judgment…, but he was not some guy crouched in a dark alley somewhere. … I don't think you should be in the habit of ruining someone's life for mistakes made." I somehow doubt that the victim, not mention the majority of citizens, would agree with that, rather callous, statement.

Reading between these blurred and multicolored lines, it seems quite obvious what is really happening here. Because Celestin has black skin and apparently holds all of the "correct" beliefs regarding the fight against the racism that has surely experienced in his life, the Black Caucus has rushed to his side at the expense of their own credibility. The judge, perhaps out of fear of irritating a vocal group with easy access to the news media, has latched onto Celestin's benign past as a way to justify his feeble administration of justice. Penn State, probably even more concerned about appearing to be politically incorrect, has basically punted the issue until it passes from the public's consciousness.

Hate crime legislation is nefarious because it goes directly against so many of the values of freedom and equality upon which this country was founded. But at least the proponents of such ill-advised action are willing to go through the system to get the changes they want made. This unsanctioned concept of "reverse" hate crime sentencing is even more treacherous because it is based almost totally on "unwritten law" and attempts to go AROUND our legal system while undermining the very same principles that it pretends to espouse.


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