The New Testament recounts this from Jesus: “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you comforted me, I was in prison and you came to me.” “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

A clash between these moral teachings and our government’s policies played out recently in a federal court in Tucson.

Four volunteers from a religious group were criminally convicted for leaving food and water on desolate federal land that was used as a corridor for illegal immigrants. In recent years, over 150 corpses had been found on the land from those who died of thirst. The volunteers claimed their actions were morally justified based on the message of Jesus.

The federal government argued that prosecuting those who left the food and water was a way to enforce immigration laws, and overrode any humanitarian, moral or faith-based defense that those convicted of the crimes had asserted.

A judge in Tucson reversed the convictions and found for the volunteers. The judge had this observation about the government’s immigration enforcement defense: “The Government seems to rely on a deterrence theory, reasoning that preventing clean water and food from being placed on the Refuge would increase the risk of death or extreme illness for those seeking to cross unlawfully, which in turn would discourage or deter people from attempting to enter without authorization. In other words, the Government claims a compelling interest in preventing Defendants from interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death. This gruesome logic is profoundly disturbing.”

The morality-based actions of those charged stands in sharp contrast to the death-based deterrence justification asserted by the government. The contrast could not be more striking.