Hate Crime Or Not?

There’s an interesting discussion making the rounds of NYC news blogs regarding what happened at a Jewish wedding reception last week. A 23 year-old Christian-raised cater waiter, who for five years had worked for a catering company that specialized in Jewish weddings, decided to express his sympathy for Palestinians by using the Woodbury Jewish Center’s PA system to broadcast some chants he’d recorded with his cell phone at last week’s pro-Palestine rally in Times Square. The chants? “Allahu akbar.”

The wedding was nearly over when the incident occurred at 1am, but the remaining of the 700 guests were understandably unnerved when they realized what the recording was saying. The waiter, who claims he didn’t know he was broadcasting to the entire hall when he used a DJ’s microphone, was fired on the spot. Police were summoned and the waiter was arrested for aggravated harassment as a hate crime. The waiter plead not guilty to the charge, but admits he played the recording “with the intent of disrespecting the Jewish religion.” The newlyweds say they did not press charges and don’t know who did.

Here’s a few comments on the incident via Gothamist:

-“While this person’s action exudes douchebaggery, making it into a criminal matter seems a bit extreme. Those affected by the chants should simply sue the catering company for hiring such an ass (what would be fair is to have the catering and everything be free, but I’m sure the lawsuit will contain some bogus multi-million dollar claim). Unfortunately, you cannot legislate stupidity, so while this action is moronic and inappropriate, it’s hardly criminal.”

-“If someone creates an atmosphere of panic, they could be charged with reckless endangerment as well. That stupid stunt could have started a stampede where people could have been trampled to death.”

-“I think the couple has a civil case for the guy ruining their wedding, but I can’t understand how playing a recording that says “God is great” could be considered a hate crime. There’s a first amendment issue here.”

-“You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. You can’t yell ‘bomb’ on a plane. You can’t play back a chant known to be associated with suicide bombings at a Jewish wedding. Any 23-year-old should know that.”

Are hate crime charges limited to property damage or physical assault? Should they be? I’m fairly certain the waiter’s action would qualify as a hate crime in Canada or the UK, but does it here? Should it?