If the law is not about morals, then it’s about the exercise of power for its own sake: I am making a law so that I can force you to do what I want you to do. Divorced from a higher, deeper, greater moral authority, the exercise of creating, defending, and enforcing the law is about the ego of those whose arrogance demands the subservience of others.
I read of a thoughtful theologian who each semester asked his class, “Why is adultery wrong?”
The students would answer, almost in chorus: “Because God says so.”
“No,” the theologian said. “God says so because it’s wrong.” If right and wrong are but a matter of Divine whim, he suggested, we are all at the mercy of the greatest bully in the universe. But if there is such a thing as Right and Wrong – if there are, always and forever, certain ideas and behaviors that will make us better, or that will utterly destroy us – and a merciful God steps in to direct us clearly and consistently to which is which, then we are in the hands of a Creator who is at once just and merciful, loving and unyielding … a God inseparable from the Truth.
And so it is with those who would make, defend, and enforce the law … be they judge or attorney, legislator or governor, prosecutor or president. Either their laws are grounded in a truth more eternal than their own emotions and a moral code more profound than their own intuition … or else they’re just flexing their power, playing at politics, and force-feeding us their own instincts of the moment.
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,” Edmund Burke wrote. “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."
Burke, whose writings are acknowledged as one of the primary inspirations of the Founding Fathers and a philosophical basis for the American Revolution, is most famous for the assertion, oft attributed to him—“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In truth, though, Burke knew, evil depends just as surely on immoral men determined to do … something. In America’s courts, as in her Congress today, we are endangered aplenty by both.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.