The U.S. criminal justice system is broken. Rather than providing the necessary rehabilitation for law-breakers, our government strives to be an all-knowing moral authority that punishes actions that it views as reprehensible. This moral authority and the power to wield it, however, is not controlled by some infallible deity, but rather by a legislative body comprised of corrupt politicians. Such talk inevitably leads one to question whether or not these laws are any less corruptible than those who enact them.
There are, of course, laws in the United States that are universally viewed as necessary and sound by the general public. For instance, no one disputes the illegality of murder. However, other laws are more readily debated by the public. For instance, in my home state of Illinois, recreational marijuana became legal on Jan. 1. Many of the rural Southern counties greatly opposed this, and several are still dragging their feet on providing the proper regulations necessary to allow the sale of marijuana. The arguments both for and against this reform in drug law are predominantly of a moral nature. Proponents of legalization framed it as a God-given right, while those opposed framed the issue as a slippery slope bent on corrupting our youth.
Regardless of your view on any one particular law, it is clear that your viewpoints surrounding that law are heavily shaped by your own moral character. Logic would follow that with any one person’s own morals heavily impacting their stance on legal issues, our legislators and therefore our entire legislative and legal system is the product of the combined moral character of a few hundred men and women – men and women that are granted abhorrent amounts of power by the American people and gifted an equally appalling amount of money by lobbyists and special interest groups. This alone should make one question the law, but the inquiry should go deeper than that.
To fully explore the moral foundation of a law, one first has to determine just what morals are and, more importantly, which moral system is the correct one. For many, eating meat is considered immoral. However, a large portion of the world believes that not only is it moral, but that it is healthy and should be encouraged. People’s stance on this view predominantly stems from their religious beliefs, where they are from, their experiences in life and the culture they were raised in. This shows how the subjectivity of morality makes it difficult to say for certain what moral system is the 100% correct viewpoint. Because of this, we must be sure to form our laws in a manner that maximizes freedom, not morality.
This is in no way a call for anarchy. Laws are an essential part of society, but they are nevertheless a man-made construct susceptible to man-made errors. We should openly question the law, the underlying motivations for passing a law and all of the potential negative effects that could occur. Only when we as a society move beyond the imposition of our own morals on the lives of others will we truly progress.