After World War II, some Germans tried to defend venal behavior by claiming that they were “just following orders” from their government.
Governments in America have never done anything nearly as awful as the Nazis, but there certainly are some very unpleasant blemishes in our past – and some very bad laws today.
This raises an interesting moral quandary. To what extent are we – as moral individuals – obliged to obey (or help enforce) bad law?
As is so often the case, Walter Williams has strong feelings and compelling analysis.
Decent people should not obey immoral laws. What’s moral and immoral can be a contentious issue, but there are some broad guides for deciding what laws and government actions are immoral. Lysander S. Spooner, one of America’s great 19th-century thinkers, said no person or group of people can “authorize government to destroy or take away from men their natural rights; for natural rights are inalienable, and can no more be surrendered to government — which is but an association of individuals — than to a single individual.” French economist/philosopher Frederic Bastiat (1801-50) gave a test for immoral government acts: “See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” He added in his book “The Law,” “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”
I don’t pretend to know where to draw the line, but, as suggested by my posts about jury nullification, I fully subscribe to the libertarian principle that “not everything that’s illegal is immoral, and not everything that’s immoral should be illegal.”
So if you’re dodging taxes, cutting hair without a license, or smoking pot, the government better not put me on a jury if you get arrested. An if you have an expired registration sticker on your car, an unregistered gun, or a stockpile of normal light bulbs you plan on selling after the ban takes effect, you can safely confide in me.
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Time for another episode of “You Be the Judge.” I periodically come across stories that present very difficult (at least for me) moral quandaries, so I figure why not see how other people react.
I’ve cited some tough cases in previous posts, dealing with thorny topics such as brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, Sharia law, healthcare, incest, jury nullification, and vigilante justice.
And speaking of vigilante justice, that’s the topic of today’s post. A woman in Spain was not very happy when the man who raped her daughter decided to gloat about the crime, so she decided to do something about it. Here’s an excerpt from a story in the UK-based Telegraph.
A Spanish mother has taken revenge on the man who raped her 13-year-old daughter at knifepoint by dousing him in petrol and setting him alight. He died of his injuries in hospital on Friday. Antonio Cosme Velasco Soriano, 69, had been sent to jail for nine years in 1998, but was let out on a three-day pass and returned to his home town of Benejúzar, 30 miles south of Alicante, on the Costa Blanca. While there, he passed his victim’s mother in the street and allegedly taunted her about the attack. He is said to have called out “How’s your daughter?”, before heading into a crowded bar. Shortly after, the woman walked into the bar, poured a bottle of petrol over Soriano and lit a match. She watched as the flames engulfed him, before walking out. The woman fled to Alicante, where she was arrested the same evening. When she appeared in court the next day in the town of Orihuela, she was cheered and clapped by a crowd, who shouted “Bravo!” and “Well done!”
The story is from 2005, and I confess that I have no idea how the case was resolved. But let’s imagine that something like this happened in the United States and you were on the jury. How would you vote? Would you practice jury nullification? Or what if you were the prosecutor, and had some discretion in what crime to prosecute. What charge would you file?
I know this is an impulsive answer and probably not the right approach, but I would be have been part of the crowd at the court cheering the woman.
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