Lincoln City Council unanimously passes hate intimidation ordinance

City leaders have passed an ordinance aimed at increasing penalties for people convicted of hate crimes. 

City leaders have passed an ordinance aimed at increasing penalties for people convicted of hate crimes.

The Lincoln City Council on Monday voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, which creates a new offense under city code called “hate intimidation.” It could be charged to someone violating a city ordinance “with the intent to intimidate someone” based on a number of statuses including race, religion, age, and sexual orientation.

The ordinance had been in the works for months, Councilwoman Tammy Ward said, and is not a “knee-jerk” reaction to the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Officials cited recent instances where swastikas were spray painted on trees in a Lincoln park and prior to that on the South Street Temple.

Councilman Roy Christensen proposed an amendment to the ordinance, citing concerns about the language in it being overly broad. He says he thinks it could be challenged and fail in court.

“These are all expressions of speech that would fall under First Amendment protections in many situations,” Christensen said, concerning the swastika vandalisms and reports of racially-charged comment being made toward members of Lincoln’s Asian community.

City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick says the ordinance doesn’t apply to hate speech. In order for someone to be convicted of it, they first have to be convicted of an underlying crime. Kirkpatrick said the swastikas painted on the trees were not a matter of free speech, but an act of vandalism that caused thousands of dollars in damage.

After voicing his concerns about the language, Christensen said he supports what the ordinance aims to accomplish and joined his fellow council members in approving it.

Councilwoman Ward said it’s time for such legislation in Lincoln.

“To those who think it’s un-American to pass this ordinance, I want to say I think it’s un-American not to do this,” she said.

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