Dangerous Words: There Ought To Be A Law
Have you ever found yourself saying something along the lines of “there oughtta be a law?” I have, and I'm disappointed when I think that way. More and more I find myself asking “do we need this law?”
It seems that laws are many times enacted as a result of some one behaving badly. And, truly, there are times when legitimate protection is required to protect society at large. But have we come to the point where our first reaction is to seek some kind of government injunction to restrict someone else's behavior? If we are not there, and I think we are, I do feel we are certainly heading in that direction.
On our morning show, Chris Holmes pointed out that the federal government got involved in marriage with the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. While much of the act focused in curtailing polygamy that was being practiced in Utah, one part of the act is largely ignored today. That is the provision that required civil marriage licenses. It was from that point on that permission had to be given by a government authority to allow a marriage. We mentioned that, prior to that, no government permission was needed and that marriage was mostly done by couples having a marriage ceremony preformed by a member of the clergy. We also wondered if what was happening in relation to marriage today wouldn't have best been served by the federal government just staying out of it. As the segment was concluding, a listener called and asked “if we didn't have the laws, what would protect”...and he gave an example of underage marriage. We weren't able to get his call on the air, but I thought about it through the night and we came back to the subject the next morning. Thankfully, the same listener was with us and called and this time was able to ask his question on the air.
When he was done, I replied that, from a legal perspective, there might not be any legal protection to the situation that he presented, and I was all right with that. The example our listener gave us could have been easily considered as an extreme example as is often the case when trying to make a point. Few, although admittedly some, would promote and engage in early and pre-teen marriage. The caller agreed that common sense would prevail.
I then asked our listener “what is the possible ultimate result to a person when a law is passed?” He replied with things to the nature of fines, maybe even prison time for lawbreakers. True, but I asked him to go further down the road, and he wasn't sure how to answer. I then asked, “doesn't every law, ultimately give the state (government) the right to commit violence against an individual?” I know, this sounds like an extreme example again, but it has merit. Consider the case of a 70 year old woman in Orem thrown in jail. Her crime? Not watering her lawn. She was released when Orem authorities learned of the situation. The enforcement officer involved was placed on administrative leave for a time, but was ultimately defended by Orem city for his actions.
This might sound like an anarchistic rant, with some assuming that I am advocating for all laws to be abolished. Absolutely not true. What I am suggesting though, is that our knee jerk reaction to something we see someone doing that we don't like should not be “we need a law to stop that.” We ought to consider other options before making that leap. Plus, consider that the law may not bring the desired results. Seen anyone driving down the road on the mobile devices lately?
In this article in The Atlantic, Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter says this:
Every law is violent. We try not to think about this, but we should. On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill.
Sobering words. When considering laws, regulations and ordinances we need to consider ultimate results and consequences. Some authorities are only too willing to step in to a situation, sometimes violently, where they are not needed. I believe we are more responsible then we are given credit for.