When Politicians say “We are a nation of laws”

When politicians say “We are a nation of laws”, I cringe. It is true that our nation needs laws. Our society is governed and structured largely by law. But it is a problem when human laws are treated as if they were absolute.

First, a law can be unjust. The expression “we are a nation of laws” contains no acknowledgement that some laws are unjust and therefore should not be followed, and need to be changed or nullified. And in the present day, there are more than a few unjust laws.

It is true that, in a democracy, laws can be changed or declared unconstitutional. But the process is not so easy. Many unjust laws persist for a lengthy period of time, before being changed. Consider how long it took for our nation, the United States, to free itself from the grave injustice of laws supporting slavery. And now today, abortion is the law of the land. How long will it be before unjust laws on abortion are changed?

So the idea that we must follow the law, because we are a nation of laws, is not so much a democratic ideal as a totalitarian tagline. A totalitarian government passes laws, just or unjust, and requires their fulfillment regardless of the immorality or harm of the law.

The democratic ideal always includes civil disobedience, and a rejection of some laws as contrary to the stated or implied principles of justice in the constitution.

Second, the politicians who say “we are a nation of laws” are often the ones who propose, write, pass, or sign legislation into law. So it is very disturbing for a lawmaker to say that we must obey the law because we are a nation of laws, when that same person helped make the law, or at least could possibly change it, if it were unjust. It is like a store owner, who sets a policy for his store, and who then cites that policy to customers as the reason he cannot help them.

Politicians running for office should not be saying “we are a nation of laws”, but rather should be proposing ways to improve the law, and its implementation. They should say, “we are a nation of laws, and those laws need changing.”

Third, the eternal moral law is always above every human law. As a result, sometimes a law-abiding patriotic citizen, who loves his neighbor, must break a law. For example, a Catholic hospital or clinic should refuse to dispense abortifacient contraception, should refuse to perform abortions, and should refuse to refer patients for abortions. A Catholic pharmacist should refuse to dispense abortifacient contraception. A Catholic priest should refuse to bless or approve (in any way) of same-sex marriages. And if the law says otherwise, we must disobey the law, and work to change it.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to When Politicians say “We are a nation of laws”

  1. bob says:

    Glad to see your back. I hope your surgery went well and you recover quickly.

  2. Emanuel says:

    Welcome back

  3. John Platts says:

    Even though pro-abortion candidates for political office say that Roe v. Wade should be upheld because it is currently the law of the land in the United States, the prohibition of abortion can become constitutional again in the United States if an amendment to the United States Constitution that allows the prohibition of abortion is ratified by at least 38 states.

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