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Morality & the Law, Clearly Partners

Friday, 17 December 2004 12:00 AM

He said, “LAW being the rule of human actions, in a comparative view we observe that [human actions] are either conformable or opposite to the [law]; and this sort of qualification of our actions in respect to law is called morality.” (2)

Even so modern a source of legal insight as Stanford law professor Lawrence M. Friedman’s classic, “A History of American Law,” recognizes these facts about morality and the law:

Of the top three factors that influenced early American law, “the ideological element” – meaning the colonists’ Christian beliefs and religious traditions – was one of the most persuasive. (3)

In the 1770s, “all crime was looked upon as synonymous with sin. … The typical criminal was not … an outcast from society, but only an ordinary member who had sinned.” (4)

Control of sin was a factor in all the blue laws. (5)

“Criminal law ... in any period, expresses [among other things] current standards of morality.” (6)

We can pretend this is not so, but it is so. And besides, what are such concepts as equality but a belief that men OUGHT to treat their neighbor as themselves; or justice, than that men OUGHT to be punished for sins against a neighbor; or representative democracy, than that man OUGHT not to have law imposed upon him without consent? Or opposition to monarchy, than that men OUGHT not to worship other men?

There are so many “oughts” at the root of our law, whether applied correctly or not:

In criminal law, men and women OUGHT not murder, rape, rob or lie.

In family law, men and women OUGHT not abuse, abandon or fail to provide.

In environmental law, men and women OUGHT to reverence all forms of life and OUGHT not to neglect the needs of future generations.

In property law, men and women OUGHT to have the right to buy, sell, trade and control their own property.

In welfare law, men and women OUGHT to impart of their substance to the poor, unfortunate and disabled.

In welfare reform law, men and women OUGHT to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows, and the idler OUGHT not to eat the bread of the laborer.

In safety, food and drug law, men and women OUGHT not to endanger the lives of others.

The examples are endless, and sometimes “oughts” clash and men are bound to weigh which “ought” matters most, or how to satisfy both “oughts.” The point is, just what is an “ought” but a moral position? And, tell the truth, where did these OUGHTS come from but from biblical commands and biblical invitations to men and women of all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples?

Almost all law returns to basic moral premises, or at least someone’s interpretation (correct or incorrect) of those premises. Some will point to the source of the premise as the Bible, or as God the Father, or as Jesus Christ, or as the Holy Ghost, or as conscience (also known as the light of Christ), or as reason, or as all of the above – but no one can say with a straight face that morality is not involved.

Even those who supposedly cling to reason alone as their basis for law and suppose it to be strictly scientific are deluding themselves. First, because their choice of science as the only or highest source that men must look to is a subjective position, based upon their moral view of the universe, their trust in the omnipotence of what they see and hear and feel and touch, or what the grant-driven scientists they adore see and hear and feel and touch.

Second, because some of the greatest proponents of reason have seen the hand of God in reason, and have believed that true reason leads a man to God, and have concluded that reason is the companion of true faith – as did Cicero, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. (7)

The agnostics and atheists of the world have decided that faith is blind, when the truth is that conversion begins by asking questions, making comparisons, conducting practical experiments.

In other words, faith is about men and women who study, ponder, apply, pray and observe the results, not just once, but in successive experiments of faith and reason throughout their lifetimes. Faith and reason are companions, as are morality and the law. (8)

1. Blackstone, Sir William. “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” Book I, Chapter 1.

2. Burlamaqui added, “Thus we call morality the relation of human actions to the law, by which they are directed; and we give the name of moral philosophy to the collection of those rules, by which we are to square our actions.” http://www.constitution.org/burla_1111.htm

3. Friedman, Lawrence M. “A History of American Law,” A Touchtone Book, Simon & Schuster, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, 1973, 1985, p. 35.

4. Ibid., p. 73.

5. Ibid., p. 73.

6. Ibid., p. 75.

7. See the author’s

8. There are right ways and wrong ways, or freedom-promoting ways and intrusive ways, to legislate morality. To understand where the line is drawn, read the author’s

NewsMax pundit Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, press agent for Defend Marriage (a project of United Families International), and the author of the highly praised inspirational novel, “Dark Rose” (available at Amazon.com).

For you West Coast night owls, every Monday you can catch Steve on Mark Edward’s ‘Wake up America!’ talk radio show on 50,000-Watt KDWN, 720 AM, 10 p.m. to midnight; or on the worldwide Internet at AmericanVoiceRadio.com


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He said, "LAW being the rule of human actions, in a comparative view we observe that [human actions] are either conformable or opposite to the [law]; and this sort of qualification of our actions in respect to law is called morality." (2) Even so modern a source of...
Friday, 17 December 2004 12:00 AM
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