Hypothetical scenario: Bubba is driving to work, and he strikes and kills a pedestrian in an unavoidable accident. Will Bubba face criminal charges? No, he will not, and while the death is a tragedy charging Bubba would be an injustice. However, Bubba would face charges if he was being reckless. He would face more severe charges if he intentionally ran someone over and killed him.
Everyone instinctively knows that intent matters when it comes to civil and criminal liability for harmful actions. It is the very foundation of our criminal justice system. Details of the order aside, the basic orientation of Donald Trump’s reforms of regulations about killing birds was good and just.
It makes sense to lessen the penalty for accidental killing of birds or other environmental damage. Does this mean acts of extreme negligence should not bring criminal or civil liability? Of course not. Environmental laws exist to protect all of us, both in terms of public health and protecting our own private property rights from damage caused by pollution. But intent does matter, morally and legally.
Even the Mosaic Law makes allowances for intent, innocence and negligence. Obviously Genesis 9:6 is the go-to verse on capital punishment, but Scripture also addresses negligence and accidents. God commands capital punishment for the owner of an ox who kills someone in Exodus 21:28-29, but God orders the protection of someone who kills a man by accident in Deuteronomy 19:5-6.
To protect the balance of our ecosystem, we should protect birds from mass killings. It is the responsibility of corporations under the law to avoid ecological damage, as it should be. But we should make a distinction between malice, negligence and true accidents.