Perspectives: Not every law deserves respect, the difference between law and legislation

OPINION – How seriously should we take the law? The answer isn’t nearly as cut and dried as some would have it.

Consider for a moment what your instinctive reaction is when someone utters the words, “It’s the law.”

Do you automatically assume that if something has been sanctioned by the state as law that it must be right and that you’re duty-bound to respect it? Or do you more closely examine the moral premises of the law to determine if it is something you’d be willing to consent to follow?

Questioning the rightness or wrongness of a given law isn’t necessarily the mark of a scofflaw any more than mindlessly obeying a law makes someone a decent person.

We’re trained from the time we’re very young children to obey the rules that are dictated to us — or else. If we don’t, we’re told that men with guns will hurt us or other authority figures will shame us before our peers.

In this mindset, we are only concerned with what is legal and illegal rather than considering whether something is morally wrong or right. If something is legal, we can’t be punished for it, if it’s illegal, we can.

This kind of reflexive obedience to what we’re told is “law” stems from practices that have been used to create long-term obedience of large groups of people. But not many people realize that what we call “law” in our day is quite different from how laws used to be understood.

Too often we fail to distinguish between law and legislation.

Law, throughout most of the history of Western civilization, served the purpose of establishing what was just. Those laws were often based on customs and their effectiveness and whether the people considered them reasonable and fair.

Only those laws that met these criteria were able to stand the test of time. The law reflected the combined experience of many generations rather than the whim of an elite ruling class.

The key difference was that the law of the land wasn’t handed down by a king or some other lawmaker. It was developed primarily at the local level and through the decisions of trusted judges who knew how to apply reason. The king was not the final arbiter.

Proof of this can be seen in Article 39 of the Magna Carta in 1215 which reads:

No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

It wasn’t until the early 1800s that the seeds of our current system with legislation, representatives and police began to sprout. Modern legislation is nothing more than the weaponized edicts of politicians.

It has become focused on maximizing the state’s control over the people rather than serving to encourage just outcomes. What we now call “laws” are merely legislation that’s often contradictory and arbitrarily enforced against a public that has been trained to never question whether these edicts are morally right.

As power seekers work to consolidate their control, their enforcers have to become more militarized over us. Training to keep the peace has instead given way to training officers to be adversarial in order to maintain the initiative and to escalate without cause against those who don’t obey quickly enough.

This has resulted in a very predictable us-versus-them mentality that pervades how legislative edicts are enforced.

There’s also the problem that legislation can and does change on a whim, such as Utah’s .05 blood alcohol level DUI law. This legislation arbitrarily criminalizes a BAC that was legal without making any distinction for those whose driving behavior has caused no harm or threat to others.

Most of us can recall just a generation ago when it wasn’t uncommon for a peace officer to stop high school kids who’d been out drinking, take away their booze and follow them home.

If a kid got his butt kicked by his dad right there on the front lawn while the police were standing there watching, it didn’t become a criminal matter. They weren’t being derelict in their duty, they were solving problems at the lowest possible level rather than looking to bring charges for every violation they could find.

Even if what you were doing was technically illegal, as long as you weren’t actively harming someone or their property, officers had considerable latitude to cut a break to those who were ignorant of the law.

Because of this, people tended to be more honest and respectful with the police. Only the most determined hard cases failed to take the hint and correct course.

Today, it’s far too easy to find your life destroyed over things that bothered no one, based on legislation that you may not have even known or understood.

The lesson here is that we should think before clicking our heels for legislated edicts. Their enforcers may be paid to compel our obedience but understanding the difference between right and wrong is a better guide than simply knowing what’s legal and what isn’t.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • statusquo October 16, 2017 at 7:40 am

    Your opinion is thought provoking, but will only lead to chaos. A society won’t function if everyone chooses which laws he wants to obey. This is nuts.

    I do agree that laws such as the reduction to a 0.05 bac should be revisited. But we can’t pick and choose the laws we think are reasonable. Fortunately, there are means in place in our nation to change the laws we think should be changed.

    Failure to yield to these laws is not an option, unless the law violates a God-given right such as self defense.

  • theone October 16, 2017 at 9:28 am

    It would be fantastic if we lived in Mayberry back in the 50s when the discretion of an officer could be implemented in order to keep peace and order. But we don’t live in that environment anymore, the landscape has changed. Are some laws bad? Yes, and we have resources to make changes if needed. I believe we as a society got tired of our High School kids getting drunk and dead from joy riding. For that very reason the penalties are what changed, not the law. I’m sure we would see a Bryans law right after he was killed by some drunk kid and leaving his kids Fatherless. The problem with right and wrong is it can only be punished or rewarded, not regulated which is why we have laws that are enforced by way of penalties.

  • Curtis October 16, 2017 at 9:35 am

    If you can’t use the police powers of the state to force people to live their lives as you want them to, then what is the point of being a legislator ? Where’s the fun ?

  • KarenS October 16, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    I’m guessing this article sets the stage for a future column by Mr. Hyde promoting “jury nullification”. Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of “Not Guilty” despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged. This wacky concept is being pushed by a some defendants seeking a “get out of jail free” card. Big time promotion on right-wing websites.

  • utahdiablo October 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Kinda like the Polygamy laws here in Utah Huh? …..and $12 million in food stamp fraud with a $100 fine?

  • deseret dave October 17, 2017 at 12:35 am

    Good article…The laws passed by the legislature are only as good as the people (and smart) who pass them..Unfortunately legislatures of the past (and probably the future too) have passed some really bad laws that are unconstitutional or just foolish…We need to elect good people who have the good of the people in mind….Not to serve the needs or desires of any particular group…..religious,business.or any group that wants to exert their sudo authority..AMEN

  • BEN October 17, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Thanks Bryan; well said. Remember the 55 mph speed limit, and how long it took to get rid of it? Stupid and senseless from the very start, it cost lives and money, and damaged the economy of the entire western United States. And it lasted for 20 years, a whole human generation. Consider how many similar legislative corpses that have been buried in our legal code longer than that. Not to mention immigration “laws” that date from the middle ages.

  • ladybugavenger October 18, 2017 at 9:19 am

    When the law is made that all people need to take the mark of the beast to eat and by goods, that’s one law no one should obey. Do not take the mark. Sure, you may starve and be killed but, you won’t go to hell. Choose Jesus!

    • theone October 18, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Bug I would have to take a hit of LSD just to dream up the concept of taking the mark of the beast law. Quite delusional my friend.

      • ladybugavenger October 18, 2017 at 2:25 pm

        You know what’s delusional? Teaching kids that santa wears a red suit. Rides in a sleigh with reindeer and delivers presents to the little children. And let me not fail to mention, leaving cookies and milk out for something that doesn’t exist. Talk about your fairytales.

        It won’t be called the mark of the beast law, will it? Even if it was called that, people would still take the mark. And they will still say the bible is wrong. Talk about your delusional people. So deceived. Bless their hearts.

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