By Patrick F. Cannon
Now, I don’t want to accuse everyone who’s reading this of being a law breaker, but chances are you’re as guilty as sin. Have you every jaywalked? Crossed against a light? Failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign? Driven through an intersection when the light has turned red before you cleared it? Exceeded the posted speed limit? Talked on a hand held cell phone while driving? Texted while doing the same? Fiddled a bit on your income taxes? Are you a bicyclist who’s flaunted every traffic law on the books? And, horror of horrors, have you neglected to scoop up your doggies poop?
Let’s be honest – we all occasionally break the law or laws we find inconvenient. Human nature, we might say. When we do, we generally put only ourselves in jeopardy. And surely, some of the laws on the books are just plain silly. Legislators at all levels seem to think they must leave nothing their constituents might do to chance. So many laws, indeed, that the poor police have no earthly way of enforcing them all.
What do we say then when our elected leaders decide which Federal laws they wish to enforce, and which to ignore? You may well say, if your own politics agree, that the President of the United States is within his rights not to enforce a law with which he disagrees, and be furious when the next President decides the very opposite. You may have noticed the current occupant has issued double the number of executive orders as his predecessor, which his successor has promised to reverse.
There was a time, one imagines, when time and circumstances rendered some law obsolete or even odious, and it was repealed. Apparently, political gridlock has rendered this sensible alternative impossible, thus leaving it to our leaders to decide which laws they will enforce and which ignore. Before you accept this as the status quo, as we seem to have accepted that Congress has lost the power to declare war, I ask you to consider this exchange in Robert Bolt’s play (and later movie) A Man for All Seasons as perhaps relevant to today’s situation. It is between Sir Thomas More and his son-in-law William Roper, and is related to what Roper believes are repugnant laws during the reign of King Henry VIII (who will eventually cause the future Saint Thomas More to lose his head).
Roper: So now you give the Devil the benefit of law?
More: Yes, what would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law is down, and the Devil turned ‘round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not Gods! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for may own safety’s sake!
If you have never seen the movie – the great Paul Scofield plays More – you might want to look it up. As with all great works of art, it still speaks to us.
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon