I have watched this thread develop with interest. You asked an astute question initially, and I have enjoyed observing you and others expand the inquiry, and, although perhaps not apparent, also narrow the inquiry. I only recently, on some other thread, learned of your academic background, and I think this explains both the difficulty you are having here and the clarity with which you express that difficulty.
It would appear to me that the problems the TCS'ers are having here are quite common with the rest of the population. Take a look here
, as only one example, and we all can see that we do not have some intellectual handicap because we have difficulty understanding the truly new legal concept of "hate crime."
The first question, of course, is what does the particular statute in question say? Reading the news articles you gave us we cannot really tell what the New York law is -- typical of journalists. One of the articles speaks in terms of what is "usually" considered to be a hate crime, which seems to me to be awfully uncertain where a criminal law is concerned.
In any event, one perhaps perfectly adequate definition of a hate crime is, "It is whatever the legislature says it is." The legislature can legitimately decide that some crimes are more abhorrent simply because of the motivation, and that they therefore deserve a greater punishment.
I would suggest that the "motivation" often encountered here may be an intention to violently deprive another person of a fundamental individual right protected by law -- particularly by our Constitution. This is clearly true in federal law, although this probably has a jurisdictional handle.
Of course this falls apart if you consider that having purple hair is a right protected by law, and to assault a person with purple hair should be a hate crime -- but this may be the kind of extreme argument typically dismissed by judges. Yet -- if having purple hair in time became understood to be a national symbol of dedication to a woman's right of choice, only as an example, the violent denial of that right, such as bombing an abortion clinic, knowing what the symbolism is
, might qualify as a hate crime.
Is that prosecuting a person for what she thinks? I think not. That would, on the contrary, be increasing the punishment accorded a person because of the motivation behind an otherwise common crime. The offense arguably has a broader victim than one assaulted individual. The other victim is a personal liberty our society honors.
A difficult concept to deal with. It is troubling to recognize that we have decided to protect certain classes of people more than we do others. But if we think about the values at stake here perhaps it becomes more understandable.
All the best,