“To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” Anonymous
Recently, I referenced articles about the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that writes model bills for state legislatures, including the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that contributed to the Treyvon Martin case. Leaving that specific case behind, I think we need to contemplate why and how laws should be made.
Usually a law, rule or policy gets made because something happens that seem to give an unfair or unjust advantage to someone. It’s not fair to have someone slip into your house and take your stuff, so stealing is illegal. It’s dangerous to everyone for most people to drive too fast, so there are speed limits. To be sure, the best laws are minimal, easily enforceable and deal with stuff the general public doesn’t want to do or have done to it. Laws are best when they redress a wrong, reset a needed balance.
It’s nice to think we can cure humanity’s problems, change evil inclinations, by making them illegal. How often has that happened in human history? When a civil law has gone against popular opinion, or is seen as exploitative or unjust, it’s generally brought trouble regardless of its moral value. The American Revolution was brought about by a series of such laws.
The history of Prohibition is a good example of a law that went too far. The corrosive effects of alcoholism on society and business were fairly well known and documented, and there was a temperance movement that worked for over 60 years to fix the problem. The law as passed was too extreme and proved unenforceable: the hypocrisy of enforcement of the law and it’s general disregard undermined its goal, and the crime wave it spawned was worse than the social ill it tried to remedy. Just as 2/3 of the country approved it originally, it proved such an impossible law it was repealed by 2/3 of the country within 15 years of passage.
Sitting around a room and inventing laws or rules for others to follow without any particular reference to fixing a wrong or correcting an injustice is unjust. Without a movement to support it, a need to address or an imbalance to correct, a law is arbitrary, unnecessary and likely to cause more problems than it can cure. I don’t think there was a huge public outcry demanding “Stand Your Ground” be enacted, nor was there a great need it addressed. Granted, there’s too much crime in the streets, however helping law enforcement do their job better and call people to look out for each other seems like a more rational path rather than let everyone carry concealed arms. The injustice these laws created are described in this article from the Tampa Bay Times I cited recently: when criminals can use a law to their advantage like this, the law is problematic; it’s Prohibition all over again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Liberal or a Conservative group making this legislation: it’s unnecessary and unjust.
God’s Law is an entirely different matter than human law. I won’t try to recap St. Thomas Aquinas, and human beings are just as interested in finding loopholes in Divine Law as Civil Law. Mark 12:30-31 and its parallels are given by an impeccable source for Christians, and repealing this kind of law entails giving up on God. The consequences are entirely different than breaking human law, although it does mean more difficulties in Life than one might think (but that’s a subject for other stray thoughts).
There is a word I think describes people who sit in shaded rooms off the radar creating laws out of thin air to benefit themselves, their ideals of rule and their own financial interests: tyrants. Given what we know about nutrition these days, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep better track of how hot dogs and the rest of our food is made, either.