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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Moral defiance

<ur liberal democracy, law, as opposed to the arbitrary whims of our politicians, is the source of order and authority. The principle of the rule of law protects all of us from decrees that would serve to harm us and undermine our freedoms and rights, while also protecting us from our fellow citizens’ own transgressions. Without such a principle in place, stability would surely give in to chaos, and the life we have grown accustomed to would be an impossibility.

Yet, even while recognizing the necessity of having a robust system of law in place, we must not view laws themselves as being inherently infallible and sacred. Furthermore, all of us who hold justice and fairness in high regards should never acquiesce to unjust laws, regardless of the reprimand we may face for our disobedience.

Unjust laws are those that restrict our freedom needlessly, often in order to protect the interests of a select few. Our country has a rich but unfortunate history with such laws, from state-mandated segregation to prohibition to restrictions on same-sex marriage. Ironically, some unjust laws are initially advocated for by individuals with the purest of intentions. Alcohol and drug prohibition are clear examples of this. Those who pushed to have alcohol criminalized were tired of seeing the suffering that alcoholism had inflicted upon countless families, and those who still fight to keep drugs illegal oftentimes do so in order to protect the most vulnerable in society from addiction and personal decay.

Of course, we now bear witness to what such laws resulted in. The days of prohibition were the days when gangsters like Al Capone reigned supreme, when brutal violence was an expected occurrence, and when scores of everyday Americans became lawbreakers. As a result of the War on Drugs, millions of mostly black and Latino individuals have served or are serving draconian jail sentences for possession of marijuana, while many white and more affluent citizens partake in the same activities without any real consequences. Illicit drug prices remain high due to their illegal status, and violent groups who control the drug trade prey upon communities both here and abroad.

Certain laws, such as those that criminalize drug use, deprive citizens of their natural condition of freedom, simply because certain lawmakers feel that our society needs to be structured to fit their morals and worldviews. Why is what we decide to put into our bodies, or what we decide to do with them, anyone else’s business but our own? What claim of ownership do our congressional representatives have over me or over any of you? They have none. By shaping our own behaviors to stay in line with their laws, however, we surrender our individuality to them, and we conform ourselves to whatever moralistic and self-righteous path they are setting for us.

The pervasiveness of unjust laws not only harms us socially, but economically as well.  We see this most clearly through the oppressive system of occupational licensing laws, which often times prevent those at the very bottom from using their skills and labor to enter even the simplest of industries, such as hairstyling and floristry, unless they can afford the thousands of dollars in fees and the hundreds of hours of mandatory training. Such regulations are excessively prohibitive, and they are there to protect the interests of those who were wealthy and powerful enough to lobby for that legislation in the first place. When struggling entrepreneurs ignore those restrictions and continue their business anyway, they are doing nothing wrong. In fact, they are doing themselves and everyone else an incredible service by showing those in power that they will not have the control over us that they so desire, that we all in fact can and will do as we please.

Laws that are in place to restrict the direct harm we can do to others are intuitive, and are a necessary organ of civil society. Laws that punish us for theft and fraud are critical to the function of most personal and commercial activities. Those laws cannot be justifiably broken, for by breaking them we interfere in the lives of others. However, we will always have the obligation to defy those laws that restrict our freedom needlessly, and most importantly, we have the obligation to defy mandates that make life needlessly more difficult for those who have no other recourse. By doing so, we assert our own autonomy and ensure that only laws that are necessary remain in force.

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