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Has there ever been anywhere a law criminalizing certain thoughts? The closest I can find is The Treason Act 1351, which is still in force in Britain today. This criminalizes compassing or imagining the death of the King. The statute goes on, however, to say that it is necessary that the offender be 'attainted of open Deed', so this is not a pure thought crime.

I am not counting the laws of religious bodies, just the laws of states.

  • Separation of church and state is a recent thing. Heresy and similar violations of religious law have been violation of the laws of the state for most of history and remain so in many countries today. For example, in Saudi Arabia it is punishable by death for a Muslim to convert to Christianity, and people are routinely executed for that offense. Would this be a law of a religious body in your view? – ohwilleke Jul 8 '17 at 15:22
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    Thanks for this comment. Heresy and apostasy have always required an action, though -- mere thought has never been enough to constitute a breach of the law in that respect. – Daniel Hill Jul 9 '17 at 11:21
  • Depends upon what you consider "an action", nobody can prosecute a crime that doesn't have any visible outside manifestation. But, people have absolutely been executed in the Islamic world for writing in a private diary that they don't believe in God or that they are Christians, with no other evidence. – ohwilleke Jul 10 '17 at 16:38
  • Thanks for the comment, ohwilleke, but a crime that doesn't have any visible outside manifestation can be prosecuted if the agent confesses. – Daniel Hill Jul 10 '17 at 18:25
  • Then the confession is itself a the visual outside manifestation of the crime. In the same way, someone born a Muslim who when asked if he is a Christian says "yes" can be executed for that. – ohwilleke Jul 10 '17 at 19:12
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There are certainly situations where your thoughts turn something into a crime or not. Here's an interesting one (found when I tried to figure out what an "attempted crime" is):

Let's say I give up my business and sell a lot of office equipment very cheap. You think that because it is cheap, it must be stolen, and you decide to buy some of my what you think are stolen goods. You are now guilty of an attempt to buy stolen goods (even though the goods are not stolen at all, that's why it's only attempted). Someone else who buys some items because they are cheap is not guilty. So your thoughts turn this into a crime (obviously close to impossible to prove unless you tell someone about your thoughts).

Whether you want to call this a thought crime or not is up to you.

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    I think that 'thought crime' refers to when a pure thought is a crime, not to when a mixture of thought and physical action makes a crime, even though in that case the crime wouldn't have occurred without the thought. – Daniel Hill Jul 9 '17 at 11:41
  • I don't think this really matches. The OP appears to be looking for an offense that consists solely in thoughts without any requirement that those thoughts lead to, or occur at the same time as, any particular actions. A pure "thought crime" could consist of thinking poorly about the government in power, without actually saying anything with respect to this, or taking (or omitting to take) any action as a result of this. In other words, maybe someone just hates the King, but doesn't say so, pick up a weapon in rebellion, or otherwise do anything to indicate that he is not a loyal subject. – Robert Columbia Apr 16 '18 at 15:20

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