A Cautionary Note: The Rule of Law, Or of "Higher" Law?
While driving to an appointment today I was listening to the Hannity show on my car radio. An articulate caller was discussing the Terri Schiavo case with Hannity. The caller conceded that the legal processes had been followed and exhausted. In response, however, to the host's suggestion that it was time to accept the outcome, he argued, "There is a higher law that is more important to follow," or words to that effect.
This is very dangerous thinking, to the extent it becomes prevalent on the right. The caller's statements brought to mind some famous dialogue in A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt. In Act One, Thomas More is arguing with his son in-law, Will Roper, about the rule of law. More's wife Alice is upset that More has just allowed Richard Rich, whose treachery will soon be More's undoing, to escape:
(Exasperated, pointing after Rich:) While you talk, he's gone! ALICE
MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
ROPER So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER I'd cut down every law in
to do that! England
MORE (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him.) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast-- man's laws, not God's-- and if you cut them down-- and you're just the man to do it-- d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Consider: What if certain Christian members of American society were to decide that they feel so strongly about a moral or religious principle that they also believe the same principle is more important than the law. What happens to the rule of law then? What happens when the Christians are outnumbered by secularists who feel strongly, but differently, about another principle? Will the law continue protect the Christians then?
Conservatives need to think through and discuss the rule of law with a little more clarity and soberness. The law is the friend of all freedom-loving Americans. We need to obey it, honor it, sustain it. Otherwise we may well lead this country into the kind of trouble we cannot even imagine now.
UPDATE: For more on an important aspect of this subject, see John Bevan's thoughts at RealClearPolitics.