If a man commit murder, let him be punished as a murderer, and let no regard be paid to his plea of conscience for committing the action; but let not the opinions, which led to the action be meddled with.

—Joseph Priestley. Essay on the First Principles of Government, and the nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty, 1771.

Criminal laws are instituted to protect the innocent from the actions, not the thoughts, of others. It is the crime itself that is despicable, not the motivation behind it. If a man is murdered, it is a heinous crime, whether he was killed for his wallet, the color of his skin or his sexual proclivities. It makes no difference to the harm done to the victim of a beating, murder, or rape whether it was done for political, religious, sexual, or racial reasons—or whether the attacker claims the devil told him to do it. The criminal must be held accountable for what he has done—not what motivated him.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove