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Hate-crimes stand distorted

As an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is discouraging to read letters such as H. Richard Bennion's recent (Friday, March 9) excoriation of the "hate-crimes" legislation and its proponents. Discouraging and troublesome because the LDS Church's scriptures are being used to justify a totally untenable premise.

First, let me state without equivocation that Sen. Pete Suazo, the bill's sponsor, and state Senate leadership, who went to great lengths to make certain the bill did not punish thought, are honorable, decent public servants. I know all of them well.

Second, Mr. Bennion obviously doesn't have a clue about the underpinnings of American criminal law. Unless a law imposes strict liability, all crimes must be predicated upon a "state of mind" essential to form the necessary intent to satisfy an element of the offense. Thus, all crimes are, to a degree, predicated upon thought.

The hate-crimes bill is no different. Without an overt act accompanied by the requisite intent, there is no crime. Why the opponents of this bill continue to propagate the false notion that we are punishing only "thought" or impinging on the First Amendment is a mystery to me and other criminal lawyers.

Finally, it is no wonder that non-LDS residents of our communities complain, with justification, that parochial and self-righteous attitudes seem to preponderate in our state.

I sincerely hope that these good friends and associates will recognize that Mr. Bennion's views are not representative of so many of us who support sensible hate-crimes legislation and who, at the same time, claim strong allegiance to our LDS faith.

It is wrong and personally offensive, as in this case, that LDS Church doctrine be used to justify personal opinion, especially when such opinion has no basis in fact.

John T. Nielsen

Salt Lake City