Thursday, January 29, 2015

Punishing Thought Crimes, Coming To A Town Near You

Imagine this news story:

Authorities in Nashville yesterday arrested a 19 year old Christian missionary they say was on his way to Guatemala to join a hate group. Police say they had been monitoring the suspect for months as a result of his affiliation with a domestic group accused of promoting intolerant ideas including claiming that homosexuality is "sinful". When authorities monitoring his financial transactions noticed a series of large deposits and the purchase of airline tickets to Guatemala they arrested him at his home. Prosecutors are recommending that the suspect be placed under house arrest and required to attend counseling to determine why he adopted a radicalized religious outlook. 

Sound far-fetched? It really isn't. I was listening to NPR this morning and they had a story about a young man of Somali background who was arrested for allegedly planning on travelling to Syria to join ISIS. What is critical to note is that this guy had committed no crimes as of yet as far as I can tell. A judge has ruled that he be put under house arrest and forced to submit to "counseling" to figure out why he radicalized. Authorities had apparently been monitoring him and saw a $1500 deposit to his bank account. What he seems to have been arrested for was "radicalization" and a desire to join a foreign power that is on the wrong side of a localized war.

Well yeah but ISIS are the bad guys, they are beheading people and committing all sorts of atrocities. Everyone knows the difference between ISIS and Christian missionaries!

Do they? Don't be so sure. Many, many people, and more each year, see essentially no difference between ISIS and any sort of "fundamentalist Christianity", where "fundamentalist" is defined as "believing anything that makes me uncomfortable". In fact I would suggest that many people in America see "fundamentalist Christians" as a far greater threat than ISIS.

What is alarming about this story is that I can imagine a lot of conservative, law-and-order, flag-waving patriot Christians are glad we arrested this guy before he could join a terrorist organization. They would be missing the perilous slippery slope here. The same government that can arrest someone, who happens to be Muslim presumably, before he has committed any crimes and sentencing him to "counseling" which sounds a lot like "de-programming" can do the exact same thing to a Jew or a mormon or a Christian. Pre-emptive arrests. Monitoring of citizens not accused of any crimes. Declaring certain religious beliefs to be dangerous and certain levels of religious affiliation to be off-limits. It is not a terribly long stroll from the real life story of a Somali heading to Syria to join ISIS and my scenario of a Christian missionary travelling to Guatemala.

We need to be very careful with how much we trust Caesar to police thought because it could be our thoughts that he decides are dangerous next.

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