I recently saw a news article about a federal criminal prosecution in Arizona that reminded me of an unwritten law which should be called The Stupidity of Unintended Consequences. Or to put it another way, short term thinking will rise up and bite you.
In the Arizona case, Scott Warren was accused of conspiring to harbor and transport illegal aliens, a crime carrying a 20-year prison sentence. Mr. Warren spends a lot of time hiking in the Arizona desert. During his backcountry hikes, he has buried the bodies of individuals, most likely illegal aliens, who died in the desert from dehydration or starvation after becoming lost. He was prosecuted for helping a couple of illegal aliens avoid that fate.
The case is currently in limbo after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. The prosecutors must decide soon whether to start over with a new trial. They have already watched their case boondoggle once due to the Stupidity of Unintended Consequences.
The unintended consequences began back in 1993 with a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This law was originally intended to carve out a narrow religious exemption to federal drug laws that would allow the Native American Church to use peyote during their services. The RFRA prohibits the federal government from creating a substantial burden on an individual’s religious freedom unless the government has a compelling interest to do so.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court said the RFRA applied to the states. The states began passing their own unique versions of the federal law based on the culture wars. Most of the state versions of the RFRA allow conservative Christians (and so far only Christians) to ignore or break anti-discrimination laws they don’t like in the name of religious freedom.
In Mr. Warren’s case, his supporters argued that the RFRA protected him from prosecution because he followed his conscience and a higher authority in giving aid and comfort to the illegal aliens. Although unsuccessful, the argument was apparently sufficient to cause the trial to end in a hung jury.
The irony is extraordinary. A law intended to reduce discrimination is now the basis upon which a segment of the population is authorized to discriminate. Liberals are now embracing a law they once loathed in order to support Mr. Warren. And Mr. Warren would probably be a convicted criminal today if the religious right had thought about the long-term consequences of ignoring Jesus’ commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That’s the Stupidity of Unintended Consequences.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).
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