And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? – “A Man for All Seasons” by Robert Bolt
That is spoken by Sir Thomas More to his future son-in-law William prior to More’s beheading by Henry VIII. Using trees as a metaphor, he continues.
“This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
Bolt masterfully brings More down from the saintly pantheon to which the Catholic Church elevated him for standing firm against Henry, who clashed with the Pope over his demand to divorce Catherine of Aragon. While in context of Catholic law, for he and Henry were Catholic then, in truth More was defending the principle of rule of law and its correlation to justice.
More’s reverence for the law offers a point of reflection when defiance of and disrespect for the law is increasingly displayed. It is especially troublesome when elected officials responsible for administering the law state they won’t enforce ones they object to.
In Colorado, several sheriffs have said they will not comply with the Red Flag law, which empowers them and family members to remove a potential risk’s firearms for a short period. It will be intriguing to learn how a sheriff who refuses to carry out a court order is dealt with, particularly if the individual deemed a threat subsequently carries out a violent act.
Last week, the Commerce City town council declared their city a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” It is curious given that sanctuary, a practice going back to Greco-Roman days and, more recently, Christian Europe as famously portrayed in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” is about providing people protection. With its act, the Commerce City brain-trust has elevated the Second Amendment to human status. Which does seem rather idolatrous.
In Alabama, the mayor of Carbon Hill, in a response to a friend who stated a “revolution” is necessary to deal with gays, transgenders, abortion-rights advocates, and socialists, wrote on Facebook that “with out (sic) killing them there’s no way to fix it.”
In Tennessee, the district attorney of Coffee County declared he would not afford same-sex couples the protection of domestic violence charges.
“Y’all need to know who your DA is,” he said. “You give us a lot of authority. We can choose to prosecute anything. We can choose not to prosecute anything.”
In addition to his legal ineptitude, he pronounces himself lord of the realm. “The social engineers on the Supreme Court,” he went on, “now decided we have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them.”
The correlation between law and justice has been debated since Plato explored it in his “Republic.” Two millennia later, the 19th-century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker of Massachusetts said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” His words were famously echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Unfortunately, enacting and enforcing just laws is not so simple as history and current events bear witness to. Our constitutional order is predicated largely on the executive faithfully executing the laws and to the best of his/her ability to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
That’s very difficult when officials, from the POTUS on down, blatantly exhibit contempt for it. Which, in turn, compounds the challenge for citizens to accord them the respect and obedience that normally comes with the office.