Yesterday’s rant about texting made me think about why we have laws at all. As someone pointed out, no matter what issue the law addresses, someone is going to break it. Studies show that the majority of people who obey the laws of the land do so because of ethical and moral beliefs, not necessarily because of their support of the law or their fear of the consequences of disobedience. Adults are just bigger versions of the children in my classroom. Those who believe in following rules and respect authority and generally behave because it feels good will do so even when no one is watching. Those who don’t follow the rules will misbehave the moment my eyes look away.
If all of that is true, there must be some basic principle that determines what needs to be controlled by laws. Here is a recap of what I found:
1. The Harm Principle
These laws are written to protect people from being harmed by others. Laws against violent crime and property crime fall into this category. Without these basic laws, our society would turn into the ultimate “survivor” scenario- the rule of the strong and violent over the weak and nonviolent.
2. The Parental Principle
In addition to laws intended to discourage people from harming each other, some laws are written to protect us from ourselves. These laws include those banning use and possession of certain drugs and other actions that are dangerous to our health and safety.
3. The Morality Principle
Some laws are based not strictly on safety issues, but also on promoting the personal morality of the law's authors. These laws are usually, but not always, grounded in religious belief. Historically, most of these laws have something to do with sex or prejudice.
4. The Donation Principle
All governments have laws granting goods or services to some segment of its population. These laws are often used to control behavior, and can give some people, groups, or organizations unfair advantages over others. Laws promoting specific religious beliefs, for example, are gifts that governments extend to religious groups in hopes of gaining their support.
5. The Statist Principle
These laws are intended to protect the government from harm or to increase its power. They include laws against treason and espionage and laws restricting actions against the government such as flag burning or desecration of other government symbols.
Behave out there today!