Conscience

equal justice under law

Laws are enacted to be obeyed by all citizens without exception. Usually they are preceded by a good deal of debate and further refinement to the original bill before going onto the Statute Book. So far, so mundane. But when does a citizen have a duty to call upon a higher authority and choose to set aside the law of the land? If conscience dictates that the law cannot be obeyed, what is a person to do?

This dilemma is usually framed in the context of religious expression and the freedom to exercise one’s faith.  But the abiding principle must always be that state laws take precedence. In other words, if in all conscience you cannot obey the law of the land, then there are predictable consequences that you should accept because the state exists to arbitrate on issues for all its citizens

For example if your faith insists on polygamy, and you enter into multiple marriages in a country where that is illegal, you should expect to be punished for breaking the law.

There are some politicians who are trying to introduce an exception to obeying the law on religious grounds,or a conscience clause. Where a law has been introduced that does not intend specifically to restrict a particular religious practice, there is no logic in allowing one group of people to escape the enforcement of that law on religious grounds.

Equality is widely recognised as a laudable principle in society. People being treated equally no matter what their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. We cannot have exceptions in law that would permit discrimination. Such a backward step would take away the protection offered to all citizens under the law.

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