Displaying a hangman’s noose to make a symbolic statement is now regarded as one of the most heinous hate crimes in America, and there have been efforts around the country to criminalize it. Earlier this year, in fact, the state of New York made it felony even to draw a noose on a piece of paper if the artist has the ing.” Such a display will not be considered a crime unless it is done with the “intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person because of a belief or perception regarding such person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.”

That is, unless the victim of the artistic noose happens to be Sarah Palin. Then it’s OK.

That’s why an effigy of Palin (known, by the way to belong to a despised gender, femaleness, and a despised religion, Christianity) currently hanging by a noose from a front porch in West Hollywood, Calif., is getting a free pass from the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department and civil libertarians everywhere who would be up in arms, if, say, Palin were an Islamic gay male. The owner of the house says the hanged Palin image is “art,” and the sheriffs are saying, hey, it’s Halloween week!

I myself am leery about expansive hate-crime legislation that penalizes free expression, even highly offensive free expression, just because it happens to “annoy” someone. Yet I can’t help but recall the nationwide outrage over three white teen-agers who hung nooses from a tree on school premises in racially charged Jena, La. two years ago (see my story about Jena in the Weekly Standard). It seemed that the boys had simply blundered into bad taste in an excess of school spirit, but there were calls over the country to have them somehow criminally prosecuted. Too bad the noose incident in Jena occurred in early August instead of late October so the youths could invoke the Halloween defense.