James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's democracy got to do with it?

A Mormon leader, Dallin H. Oaks, announced that public officials "are not free to apply personal convictions -- religious or other -- in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices." 

This makes sense. Don't seek a job from The State if it inherently or may possibly violate your convictions, and if you are already an officeholder and face an unexpected conflict between your duties and your conscience, then quit.  
  • If you are an enlisted soldier, you don't get to choose which wars to fight. You can't support one war but be a conscientious objector to another.
  • If you are a county clerk and issuing marriage licenses is part of your job, you don't get to stop issuing them because you disagree with the law's definition of marriage.  
Most people on all sides of war, marriage, and other issues tend to agree on that point, and this Mormon leader says what seems to be to be common sense. One way of saying it is the first of Richard Maybury's Two Laws: Do all you have agreed to do.

But as reported,  Oaks also "said citizens in a democracy are bound by the governmental law and court rulings, even when conflicts between religion and law arise."

What's democracy got to do with it?

If the law is unjust, why does it matter if it was imposed by democratic institutions or by a dictatorship? The State employee is still conscience-bound to enforce the State's decrees, as he or she agreed to do, or to quit.

And citizens who never sought State jobs -- who never agreed to do anything for The State -- are no more no more bound, morally, to obey unjust laws in a democracy than in a dictatorship.

Injustice is injustice, regardless of the system of government. There are pragmatic reasons to suffer some degree of systematic injustice if punishment or death is the alternative. But I don't see how there's a moral requirement to support injustice just because a democracy produced it.

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