The following is a quoted question and scenario a friend asked me regarding law and conflicting responsibilities regarding a man breaking the speeding law to get to his pregnant birthing wife:
“If your driving above the speed limit, but you have a legitimate reason for it, for example a distressing phone call that you need to hurry back home, your wife is having a baby at the hospital, or even as simple as you need to urgently go to the bathroom, are you still not breaking the law? OR should an exception be made under those circumstances that if you were pulled over, caused an accident that possibly killed or injured someone. Would you be immune from receiving a ticket, or any legal actions that may incur because of what happened?”
Good example. I think I see, somewhat, where you’re trying to go. Let’s first say the law is in place to protect:
- Us from foreign nations.
- Us from other civilians.
That’s granted, so I’d throw that out there. I’m now going to go on a complete tangent, but I thought it would bring about some understanding to your scenario, and I’ll bring it full circle: Do situations exist where someone can reasonably break a law? Yes, I would say so. May I offer an example? Although it was illegal, and brought forth prosecution, Rosa Parks sat on a white man’s seat. She broke the law and was prosecuted. Was the law just? Are laws just merely because they’re laws, or is there something on which laws are bound to? Are there moral absolutes in which a law is SUPPOSED to reflect, and which any legislation aims at protecting. Can judicial decisions from the past, and legislation of the path, be false and only discernable as wrong as that society progresses? If they’re exposed as wrong, what is it that we compare them to that establishes them as being wrong? What IS this absolute? Can we empirically test it? Is it empirically discernable? I’m sure you cannot empirical test whether or not a law is a good law, and you cannot test whether a moral absolute exists.
However, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis, we have an awareness, a sensitivity in our conscious, to this existence of right and wrong. When a man cuts in line in front of another man, doesn’t he always try to rationalize his action? He says things like “well I’m in a rush” or “I’ll be late to work if I don’t”. Obviously, if the man had the absence of conviction in what he did was wrong, and whether it was wrong to begin with, he wouldn’t be aware of it. He wouldn’t try to convince himself otherwise, or even try to justify it. He would simply do it.This sensitivity of conscious, of right and wrong, can be applied to judicial decisions and legislation. Their main goal is to adhere to these moral absolutes. It’s silly to say that the goal of legislation and judicial decision is only to pass laws and decisions on what is relative, but rather what is RIGHT. If laws were good laws because they adhered to relative truth, than it would be completely unfair/illogical to critique Pre-Civil-Rights America, as their legislation and judicial decisions were all based on relative decisions at the time. We, as individuals and a society, can acknowledge that blacks, as well as women and other races, had a right of freedom and equality expressed within the Constitution. This freedom and equality is founded upon by inalienable rights, which they had a claim to (they being women, blacks, etc). Why did they have a claim to these to begin with? Because they have life. We don’t administer civil liberties or rights to someone whose dead, but rather only to the living. The only requisite to having these protections is life, not race, creed, or gender. The pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (aka property) is listed in that order because you may have life and not liberties (As our founding fathers did and later rebelled, while alive, against monarchial repression), but you obviously CANNOT have liberties or rights or property without life. In order to labor, and receive labor, man must be living. However, man, if living and repressed of his rights and liberties, can always use his life to fight such repression in the goal of achieving such liberties and rights through his efforts. With that in mind, we can establish that certain inalienable rights exist (as mentioned in the Declaration, and the Constitution, and having been bestowed upon us by an Almighty Creator), that moral absolutes exist (otherwise we could not critique other governments or past legislation and rules, as truth would be relative and so would be right and wrong, preventing any reasonable arguable critiques. Exp of moral absolute: equality), and that man needs life in order to have liberty. So, in somewhat of an interlinked order:
- Moral Absolutes,
- Man needing life before liberty,
- The existence of Inalienable rights.
With these three things established as foundational to our liberal democratic republic system of government, how do we use these truths and apply them to the scenario you listed?
Without getting into a discussion about a man’s obligation to protecting and nurturing his wife (which I’m sure you’ll agree as the primary role of a husband), if his wife is in danger, or his child is in danger, it’s reasonable to assume that his efforts to protect his wife AND potential child clearly outweigh a speeding habit. You can play a numbers game and say “Well what if he crashes and kills three people while driving to his wife,” but I think his primary role of father (something preceding any law or government), and life (the foundation of any government’s legitimate use of protective force, rights, and liberties), outweigh the HYPOTHETICAL of him POTENTIALLY getting into an accident. However if he were to crash, it would be an unfortunate accident, but an accident none-the-less. We could say he was just in breaking the law for the preservation of something that supercedes the law; his responsibility to his wife, and the issue of his future kid and wife’s life. I hope you find that reasonable, as those things I mentioned all involve moral absolutes that precede the constitution and liberal democracy, and which are found in God’s law, and man’s conscious (which everyone, no matter what religion, has. It is also overt in the anthropological record of family). Here’s the response to the latter portion of your situation. Does everything apply in the scenario of him needing to pee? Absolutely not! In this scenario, there is no threat of his life, his wife’s life, his child’s life, his inalienable rights, his family responsibilities, or any moral absolutes. The man merely should have peed earlier, and is now in a position to be responsible and hold it in. In both situations, he has greater responsibilities. In the first, his wife and child and their lives, in the second the law. I think that you, as a reasonable man, could clearly see how the two scenarios differ.
- In the first the responsibility as a husband and protector of life outweighs the law (since the law was made to protect life to begin with, why wouldn’t it acknowledge the issue of life addressed in the scenario?).
- In the second scenario, the law clearly outweighs the man needing to pee. Need I say more?
I’m sure you can bring it all together, and understand why the man is exempted from the law. I’m sure you can see the vital importance of the existence of these moral absolutes, these inalienable rights, and this prize of individual life (‘We the people’ Not ‘We and the Government’). Lastly I’m sure you can use the example of slavery, of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil disobedience (and how it was justified), and the example of the man driving to his woman as scenarios where the INALIENABLE rights of LIFE and LIBERTY outweigh legislative and judicial LAW. In conclusion, the law is not absolute, nor the government, but our inalienable rights, life, and liberty ARE, and in the scenario you mentioned, these latter three outweigh the former; heck, these later three legitimize the former.
PS: God not only gave us these inalienable rights, but also being all-reasonable gave us reason in which to discern them, ala the conscious and human logic.