Rules for the Rule of Law

I am a firm believer in the concept of the rule of law. Most of my students seem ignorant of the concept, so I try to explain that if we don’t follow the law, we become a society that is ruled by the whims of whoever happens to be in charge at the moment.

Yet I am also a firm believer that there are times when we must obey God rather than men. How, then, do I reconcile this?

God & GovernmentI take my students to Romans 13 (which I can do because I teach in an evangelical university) and offer them a lesson in the rules for the rule of law.

The first part of the chapter makes a strong statement about obeying government:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

At first glance, this might seem to say that government must be obeyed at all times, without exception. I’ll come back to that.

It also has been interpreted by some to say that every person who is in authority is a God-picked person—that whoever is ruling is the one God has chosen.

Be careful here. Do you really want to find a rationale that makes Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao God’s choices? Do you really want to say that all the millions they have murdered in the name of a godless ideology is what God wanted?

While there may be some who, in the light of their theology, are convinced that everything that happens is, in some mysterious way, God’s will, I am not one of that number.

While God may use evil rulers, they have chosen to be evil, and He does not approve of what they do. To believe otherwise would be to make God into someone who is in favor of sin. That is not the God of the Scriptures.

Gavel & ScaleWhat this Romans passage is saying, I think, is that God has established civil government and the positions in that government that people should obey, not every individual who holds one of those positions.

So this first part of Romans 13 makes it clear that government is to be obeyed—the rule of law is the norm.

Yet this first part is only that—the first part. There is a greater context. The apostle Paul continues:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

Now we are given the mission of civil government: it is to be a minister of God, carrying out His will by punishing those who do evil. We are told that if we do good, we have nothing to fear from government.

That is true in normal circumstances. But what if the government is violating its God-given mission? What if a government is doing just the opposite of what God intended? What if it is, in effect, promoting evil and punishing those who do good?

Is that a government that is to be obeyed?

If we obey that kind of government, we have made this institution into “god.” We cannot do that. The government—i.e., those who are responsible for its actions—is also supposed to be under God, and it will be held accountable for what it has done that is contrary to His will.

Whenever civil government disobeys God, we are duty bound to resist that government action. When told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles told the authorities that they had to obey God rather than man.

Let’s bring it up to our time.

When the government says it’s just fine to murder innocent children in the womb, are we to go along passively with this atrocity?

When the government says homosexuality is good and acceptable and then redefines marriage, are we to submit without a complaint?

In both of these cases, government has overstepped its boundaries and violated its God-given mission. We can use whatever legal means are available to us to challenge these decisions, and we can raise our voices in the public square to convince others to join with us to overturn unjust laws.

Any man-made law that conflicts with God’s eternal law in inherently invalid.

What about other types of laws with which we disagree? Must we always be quiet about them and simply obey?

Christians & PoliticsWe have another recourse. Take Obamacare, for instance. There certainly is nothing in Scripture that tells us directly that this is an evil, sinful law. However, we do still have a Constitution, which is supposed to be the standard for our rule of law.

Any law, whether passed by Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court, that violates the authority given to the federal government in that Constitution is fair game for dissent on our part, and for public argument against it, alongside active measures that can be taken to overturn such a law.

So, as Christians, we have both God’s law and the Constitution as our guidelines for when we obey the government and when we do not.

I believe in the rule of law, but there are rules for when something is a legitimate law that we should obey. When a law is illegitimate, we have a Christian duty to do whatever we can—in the proper Christian spirit—to undo that law.

God’s law is paramount. Constitutional boundaries come next. We must always make those our priority.

Sanctuary City Chaos

Kate Steinle-Francisco SanchezKate Steinle’s body has been laid to rest. Her family is still stunned by how she was wantonly shot dead on a San Francisco pier by Francisco Sanchez, an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and had been jailed on drug charges. Why was he still in this country? Why was he not in the hands of Immigration and Customs?

Ask Sanchez, and he will tell you—as he did when asked by authorities—that he went to San Francisco because it was a “sanctuary city” that would not question his immigration status or history of crime.

There are more than 200 such cities in the United States. Here’s a map that shows some of them.

Sanctuary Cities

What these sanctuary cities actually accomplish is the negation of the rule of law.

Sanctuary Cities

More Police Brutality

This has angered many people, and some high-profile programs on Fox News have taken up the challenge to change the way we deal with illegal immigration.

Kate Steinle-Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly, for instance, is pushing Congress for a law, duly named “Kate’s Law,” so that “undocumented aliens who are deported and return to the United States would receive a mandatory five year sentence in a federal penitentiary upon conviction.”

Megyn Kelly also has taken up the cudgel, focusing on the disparity in reaction from President Obama in this case as compared with other cases in which he inserted his opinion immediately. He has made no public statement about the Steinle murder.

Kate Steinle-Megyn Kelly

Of course, the reason he is silent is obvious: this tragic event doesn’t fit with his agenda; it would, instead, undermine his lax immigration enforcement and his support for the sanctuary city movement. This president is complicit in destroying the rule of law in so many ways, I have lost count, but this is another example.

Deported Man

Obama is quick to call Obamacare and same-sex marriage settled law that everyone must obey, but not so much immigration law. It’s a pick-and-choose thing dependent on whether it advances his radical ideology.

America has always been the most welcoming nation in the world to immigrants, but always with a view to following the rules. There is no “right” of immigration to another country. Mexico’s laws against illegal immigration are harsh. Try to become a Swiss citizen and you will probably fail in the effort.

So I’m not making a case for hard-hearted rejection of immigrants, but for a thoughtful and fair system for allowing immigration to take place in an orderly manner. The rule of law must prevail or we will hasten our descent into chaos, which will then be “corrected” by totalitarianism.

Ferguson & the Rule of Law

Robert McCullochAt about 9:15 last night, I, along with countless other Americans, started listening to St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch provide the factual information that led the grand jury to refuse to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

McCulloch went to great pains to explain that decision. He also went into the kind of detail that prosecutors don’t normally go into publicly in an attempt to appeal to the reasonable portion of the citizenry that justice was served. In fact, after the press conference, all the testimony from the grand jury deliberations was released for the public to read. That’s called transparency.

He was both sympathetic to the family that lost its son and methodical in his rundown of the events of that day when Wilson shot Brown. The evidence, he said, showed Brown’s DNA inside Wilson’s car, on Wilson’s shirt and pants, and, most significantly, on the policeman’s gun. The evidence, therefore, backed up the story that Brown attacked Wilson while the officer was still inside his car.

McCulloch then thoroughly explained the various eyewitness accounts and how some of them didn’t comport with the facts. The majority of the eyewitnesses, though, were clear in their testimony that once Wilson got out of the car, Brown again came toward him menacingly. That’s when the fatal shots were fired. McCulloch also emphasized that those eyewitnesses were black, not white.

The grand jury, which was selected to represent the entire county, and included various minorities, three of whom were black, came to their decision after weeks of attention to the details. He praised the grand jury members for their willingness to extend their time on this jury by two extra months, just to ensure that the truth could come out.

Overall, I was impressed by McCulloch’s professionalism and desire for an honest outcome. He spoke both movingly and convincingly, even when answering questions from hostile members of the press in the courtroom. He was decorum personified. Yet one of those reporters had the nerve to shout at him as he left the room, “Are you going to sleep well tonight?”

Ferguson RiotsThat shout was the signal that this was going to be a long night. All that professionalism and appeal to reason went for naught, as the assembled crowd rose up in anger and began destroying their own city. Stores were looted, buildings burned (some businesses will not ever reopen again), and chaos ensued. The police are coming under fire today for their weak and inadequate response. Apparently, the desire not to be seen as oppressive overcame common sense. Appeasement of violent civil disobedience is a recipe for further violence.

The rioters were both local citizens and those from groups outside the city. They were a motley assemblage of Marxists, anarchists, and just plain old criminals who wanted to get something free for themselves. Reporters on the scene showed live shots of people breaking into stores and taking out everything they could carry; alcohol seemed to be high on their “shopping list.”

All of this in the name of justice? What justice was meted out to local businesses that were devastated? How did that help the community?

And what of Michael Brown himself? Was he a hero? A martyr for some cause?

Evidence shows that just prior to the shooting, he had robbed a convenience store, treated the store employee roughly, and then scuffled with Wilson. The toxicology report after his death revealed he had marijuana in his system. Is this really the poster child for innocence? For what cause is he a martyr—the right to steal?

Obama Ferguson StatementPresident Obama chose to come out and make a statement right after Mr. McCulloch finished his press conference. Perhaps the most ironic comment of the night was his opening line about how we are a nation that abides by the rule of law. After his executive order on immigration last week, it was nice to witness his “conversion.” Rule of law is a useful concept, depending on the circumstance.

I listened to his entire monologue. After a while, it rambled and seemed to lose a lot of coherence. I don’t think it inspired confidence in many. And while he was speaking about the need for peace, the split-screen showed the beginnings of a riot as a police car was in the process of being overturned.

Something else was missing from the president’s statement: any concern whatsoever for Darren Wilson, who has been exonerated of murder, who acted in self-defense, and whose life from now on will be forever changed. Will he have to live “underground,” in fear of retaliation? What occupation is now open to him? Will he be given a new identity? Facial reconstruction? The president never even mentioned him by name.

In my opinion, both the president and Eric Holder have done nothing but inflame this situation from the start. Their public empathy for Brown and his family only made things worse, implicating Wilson as the culprit before all the facts were obtained.

Racial Fire Dept

Al Sharpton is due to arrive in Ferguson today. I don’t use the “Rev.” in front of his name; it’s an oxymoron. Not only is he one of the primary racial agitators in America today, and has been for decades, but he also is considered a special outside adviser to President Obama. He goes to the White House often. That, in itself, is a disgrace to this administration.

Sharpton

They should be embarrassed by this connection, but embarrassment is a quality to which they seem immune.

The activities last night were a blot on America, but not for the reason the protesters believe. The rule of law was attacked once again and emotion took precedence over reason and the facts.

John AdamsI’m reminded of a famous quote from John Adams as he defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial. This was a highly unpopular thing for him to do, with possible repercussions to his career and life. Yet he did what was right, and he ended with this statement:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Wishes, inclinations, and dictates of passion ruled the night. What awaits us in the aftermath? Continue to pray for God’s mercy on a nation that increasingly doesn’t deserve it, yet desperately needs it.

Lewis: Redefining Good & Bad

Abolition of ManMy fourth and final commentary on C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man concentrates on the “conditioners” in our society who seek to remake man and society in their own image. Lewis saw this happening back in the 1940s. What would he say today about this? He saw the beginnings; we are seeing the fruit of that evil.

Who are these conditioners? Lewis says they are the scientists, philosophers, and educators who have rejected what he calls the Tao, and what has always been called “natural law.” When one rejects natural law, one rejects all objective standards of right and wrong, good and bad.

They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what “Humanity” shall henceforth mean. “Good” and “bad,” applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforth to be derived.

This is man becoming his own god, determining his own ideas of good and bad, and then forcing them on everyone else. Ultimately, where does this lead?

When all that says “it is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains.

Our own “natural desires” will then rule. What’s wrong with that? Lewis explains further:

Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own “natural” impulses.

Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

In other words, throwing out the natural law, which is implanted into every human being by God (see Romans 1-2), leads to tryanny and slavery, even when it claims to be setting us free from the eternal law that God has established.

The sad results of this disavowal of God’s created order is what we have seen throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st, where men try to rule without any standard apart from their own whims:

C. S. Lewis with BookThe process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.

Traditional values are to be “debunked” and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

Tyranny, then, comes in many forms. We don’t see it only in a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. We see it also in any ruler who sets himself up as the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong, good and bad. It can happen in a country where elections take place regularly. It happens whenever a ruler places himself above the law and says he will go it alone.

If that reminds you of anyone on our current political scene, you have understood the warning C. S. Lewis has given us.

Farewell, Eric Holder (We Hope)

Right about the time I was leaving for a week and not planning to write any blogs, Eric Holder announced his resignation as attorney general. Of all the high-level appointees in the Obama administration, he was probably closer to his boss than anyone. In most ways, he was the extension of Obama into the American justice system.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not saying that was a good thing. Holder was arguably the most divisive attorney general in American history, again a mirror image of his chief. For him, and for Obama, nearly everything has a racial angle. Neither did he have much respect for the laws of the nation with which he disagreed, not even bothering to enforce them.

His tenure at the Department of Justice was a travesty in so many ways it’s hard to come up with a complete listing of his egregious actions.

Work Done

Holder raised stonewalling and disingenuousness to an art form. If you are to believe him, nothing wrong ever happened on his watch:

Holder Scandals

Some of the cartoonists played upon an identical theme after learning of his upcoming resignation:

Relief

Leaving You

Justice

The whole concept of equal justice under the law has taken a real body blow under Holder. The rule of law has been dismantled plank by plank.

Why leave now? Some have speculated he’s just getting out while the getting is good, before the house collapses around him:

Now Hiring

A scarier prospect is that he is now in line to be nominated to the Supreme Court. That would be an even greater travesty—and tragedy—than having him as head of the DOJ. That’s another reason why it’s so crucial that Republicans control the Senate the last two years of Obama’s reign. Hopefully, there would be enough backbone in the Republican senators to doom any attempt to put this man on the highest court in the land.

Farewell, Eric Holder. And may we never again see your type in the position you have held for nearly six years.

Liberty vs. License: Where I Stand

Comments from one reader of yesterday’s blog post leads me to want to explain something further. Yesterday’s post was concerned with the rush to judgment in Ferguson and the possibility that the greatest potential victim in this entire episode is the death of due process. There has been, in my opinion, too much pre-judging taking place. You saw it in the many nights of protest that included looting and rioting. You saw it in the statement of Missouri’s governor when he said a vigorous prosecution had to go forward. You saw it also in the arrival on scene of Eric Holder, who made it clear he empathized with the protesters. I questioned whether the DOJ would really conduct a fair and balanced investigation, based on Holder’s public position on the event.

Yes, I have serious doubts about the storyline being promoted by Michael Brown’s defenders. First, the main eyewitness was Brown’s partner in the manhandling of a store clerk and the robbery of the store just prior to the fatal incident with the policeman. Is this a trustworthy witness? There are also accounts of the policeman who fired those fatal shots being attacked by Brown. Who is telling the truth? All I’m asking for is an approach that gets all the facts first, then makes a judgment as to guilt afterwards.

I was asked by one commenter if I wasn’t concerned about how the police acted, and that this might be an indication of statist control of society. Let me be very clear here. Anyone who has ever read this blog on a regular basis cannot fail to understand that I sound the alarm on statism constantly. I firmly believe in the rule of law. The end-run the Obama administration always tries to make around the Constitution is a genuine threat to liberty.

That word “liberty” requires some explanation as well. Some people have a terrible understanding of what liberty actually comprises. It is not licentiousness. That’s why I can never be a libertarian politically. Ideological libertarians want nearly a non-existent government, not only in the economic and educational spheres (where I have substantial agreement with them), but also in the moral sphere (where I disagree with them vehemently). They replace the God of the Bible, who has ordained civil government for very specific purposes, with the god “Liberty.”

True liberty always includes personal accountability and a framework, in society, for order. Liberty to do whatever one wants is not true liberty, but license. What I saw on the streets of Ferguson, as business owners had to defend their private property from those who wanted to just grab things for themselves, was license. A police force must stand against those actions. The responsibility of the police is to protect the innocent from those who are out to hurt and destroy.

Did the Ferguson police go too far? There is an honest difference of opinion on that. I suspect that some of those business owners wish the police had been more of a presence than they were. Did the police charge the protesters, killing and maiming everyone in their way?  I didn’t see any footage like that, did you? In fact, they seemed rather tentative at times, worried perhaps about the reputation they were getting. That never would have stopped Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Castro. We are hardly on the verge of a police state, at least at the local level.

Now, does that mean I have reached a definite conclusion about the events of that night when Michael Brown died? Regardless of my leanings, which are based on what I have read and seen thus far, I nevertheless would have to continue to suspend any final judgment. If I were a resident of Ferguson, I would have a clear conscience sitting on a jury to decide this matter. I would look carefully at all the evidence and make my final judgment only after reviewing the facts as presented by both sides.

But there are some things that are clear to me:

  • Scripture requires an orderly society based on the rule of law.
  • Government is not a necessary evil, but an institution established by God to restrain evil and maintain order.
  • Rioting and looting are sinful actions that need to be met with the force of the government and put down with a force equal to the sinful actions themselves.
  • Guilt or innocence will be decided in a court of law, not in the media or on the streets by the loudest voices.

This is where I stand, and I make no apologies for my stance.

Fairness & Due Process under Obama

Michael Brown’s funeral is now over. Nightly unrest seems to have left Ferguson, Missouri, for the present. However, expect it to return if the legal process doesn’t go as some desire. This incident is not unique with respect to making a judgment before all the facts are known; it’s becoming alarmingly common in matters touching on race.

All the Facts

Gov. Nixon of Missouri and the Obama administration, represented by Attorney General Holder, have made it clear they have prejudged the situation. Nixon tried to walk back his comment about a vigorous prosecution of the police officer, but few are buying his semi-retraction. Holder says the DOJ will investigate fairly, but that is difficult to accept, given his predisposition to believe the narrative offered by Brown’s advocates. The loss of one life is always a tragedy, but less so if that person attacked the policeman. We’re still waiting for all the facts to come out. While we wait, we must ensure we don’t suffer an even greater tragedy that would affect everyone:

Due Process

My reluctance to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fairness and the rule of law stems from a long train of abuses in the past 5-plus years. The president seems to take any and every opportunity he can to blame Republicans for all the ills of society, never once taking any blame for himself:

Teenage Girl

Anyone who would use the IRS in an attempt to destroy political opponents has a lot of nerve casting blame on others:

Free T-Shirt

Congressional elections are drawing near. Prospects for Democrats are not good. They have to hope all these issues can somehow be buried and that the electorate will suffer from collective amnesia:

Election Issues

Unfortunately for the Republic, they’ve been able to do this before. Only an alert and principled citizenry can ensure it doesn’t happen again.