Has there ever been anywhere at any point in history a law criminalizing certain thoughts? I mean a law that says that the thinking of certain thoughts is illegal. I don't mean a law that says that the expression of certain thoughts is illegal. I don't mean a law that criminalizes certain actions accompanied by certain thoughts. I mean a law that says that the very thinking of certain thoughts is illegal.

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.

Are there any other "national" laws elsewhere in the world similar to the above British law? I am not counting the laws of religious bodies, just the laws of states.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Semaphore Sep 25 '19 at 6:01
  • I won't post it as an answer (yet) because I am not sure if this qualifies, but not being a Muslim in Mecca or Medina is punished by deportation out of Saudi Arabia. wikitravel.org/en/Mecca – Evargalo Sep 25 '19 at 8:57

In many jurisdictions, the state of mind of the perpetrator may affect the punishment for a crime, or even if an act constitutes a crime. The old Latin term is mens rea.

Killing in self-defense is a good example. It is no crime if the perpetrator acted in the genuine belief that he or she was under attack, but it is a crime if the perpetrator did not think so. Of course the court cannot read minds, so it will look at "reasonable man" standards or other evidence to discern the state of mind. Still, the intent is to punish actions for the wrong motives.

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    Surely not what OP had in mind, but an interesting angle nevertheless. +1 – Felix Goldberg Jul 8 '17 at 15:04
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    Thanks, but what I was looking for was a law against pure thought, not against thought mixed with actions. – Daniel Hill Jul 9 '17 at 11:15

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