Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beliefs are an excuse to disobey the law?

My social media these days are brimming with numerous examples where public officials are openly defying the law.  Since when have religious beliefs become trump cards over the laws of this secular nation?  Have we become a theocracy overnight while I was naively thinking this nation was founded on the principle of separation of church and state?

Public officials are supposed to be held to the highest possible standards of respect for the laws of the land.  Police officers, holders of elective office, judges, appointed public officials, and so on are entrusted by all the American people with the responsibility for upholding the law.  In return for accepting that responsibility, they're granted important discretionary powers.  But such powers are not infinite!  They have limits, and open disregard for the law is beyond those limits.  If public officials disagree with the law, they either should resign their position of authority or obey the law while participating in a campaign to change the laws with which they disagree.  This necessitates an open discussion and the participation of all the people, not just those who oppose those laws. 

Martin Luther King (following the principles used by Ghandi) showed the world how to change unjust laws by nonviolent means.  When he and his followers disobeyed the law, they expected to be arrested, and they were.  They actually wanted to be arrested, as a direct indication of their grievances with bad laws that sanctioned racial discrimination.  Nonviolent opposition gave a voice to the downtrodden victims of racism.  Given their objectives, this exposed the injustices being perpetuated in bad laws and eventually led to the rejection of those laws.  No matter that racists still stain the American landscape - they're no longer able to use the law to implement their hatred.

If people are allowed to use their religious beliefs to disobey the law without punishment, is this not an open invitation for defiance of the law for virtually any reason?  Why obey the laws when you personally disagree with them for your own personal reasons?  This seems to represent an acceptance for lawless behavior of all sorts.  How can the "law and order" conservatives of this nation support open flouting of the national, state, and local laws?  How many times have I heard from conservatives that we must respect our laws without regard to whether or not we agree with them?  Are conservatives somehow able to pick and choose which laws to obey?  Not unless this nation has become a theocracy and the Constitution replaced with something else as the law of our nation.  Their hypocrisy reveals their lies (as my friend R.J. Evans says).

It seems clear to me that public officials who disobey the law should be arrested and tried, with the prospect of serving time in prison for their actions.  Public officials are not somehow above the law, and in fact should be expected to set the highest possible standard for lawful behavior.  Our justice system is structured so that our representatives create the laws, our law enforcement officers arrest lawbreakers, and our judicial system establishes their guilt or innocence, imposing sentences on those convicted.  At no point in that process is there any room for those charged with law and order to pick and choose which laws they enforce.

Yes, I know that our system is laced with flaws along that path.  It's far from perfect.  Corporate executives have broken laws left and right and virtually nothing happens to them other than a wrist slap of a fine.  And I recognize that there are bad laws and bad judicial rulings.  And public officials time and time again reveal their hypocrisy and contempt for our laws, rather than living up to the highest moral and legal standards.  But just as ordinary people are expected to obey the law regardless of their personal opinions, and ignorance of the law is no excuse, neither are religious beliefs (or any other belief) justification for anyone to disobey the law and escape arrest, trial, and punishment.  Yet, even the embarrassing governor of the state of Oklahoma is publicly defying rulings by both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma - and she walks freely and openly in defiance even as I type this. 

The religious reich and the rich elite have shown their contempt for our laws in the most open and brazen ways possible.   If our laws are to have any meaning or significance in the future, they must be enforced vigorously, without regard for personal justifications.  If religious beliefs can supercede public law, then where does it end?  What other excuses might be offered to disobey the law?  That sort of thinking ends in utter chaos.