Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

trumping the law



A very basic question in the minds of the thoughtful is whether the law of the land trumps personal ethical standards. That is supposedly at the very heart of the debate about the health care law and religious freedom. The stipulations of the law run counter to what some feel is right, and they feel obliged to resist the law. The objection is raised as a religious issue, referencing the 1st Amendment, but it is still a matter of ethics, divinely inspired or not.


If, in the exercise of religious freedom, men can rightfully ignore the law, why doesn't this allow anyone to ignore any law, claiming religious conscience? What makes the ethics of organized and institutional religion superior to the ethical requirements of a personal faith, one which is not necessarily recognized by a formal religious group? Defining what is a bona fide religious objection to the law has never, to my knowledge, been attempted by any legislature or group. That definition is ultimately no more than a matter of personal conviction. 


This fundamental question is raised every time some splinter religious group engages in otherwise illegal activity, like coercive marriages with adolescents. We then witness a struggle by the authorities to balance religious liberty and law enforcement. Given the immense power of organized religion, public officials generally feel compelled to tread lightly whenever the religious flag is raised in defense of anything. This is a reality even when religious activities are totally repugnant to the vast majority of citizens.


In exacting our laws, we inherently establish a system of ethics. Those ethical standards may well conflict with my personal ethics. That is a basic aspect of the rule of law, a principle much heralded in our tradition.  Whenever we object to a law, elevating our personal standards above that of the law giver, we, in effect, recognize that the law may establish some measure of order and stability on society; but it never promotes personal liberty. Every law subjugates someone and that subjugation is often seen as a moral/ethical violation by those subjugated.


My basic point is this: any right to circumvent the law based on religious conviction is a denial of the much heralded rule of law in our society. That is not a condemnation, just an observation. My claim of personal freedom, religious or otherwise, inherently demands that I grant personal freedom to everyone else. Freedom is never risk free, the risk being that others may exercise that freedom in ways that I dislike.