No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.

—Frédéric Bastiat. The Law, 1850.

Immoral laws make criminals out of decent people. A man who holds back on paying 50 percent income tax rates because his daughter needs textbooks is not acting immorally. On the contrary it is those who voted for the redistribution of wealth who are thieves.

Most people, given the choice, will always prefer to live honestly. This is not just out of a desire to take the path of least resistance, but also from a sense of social responsibility. However, if revenue laws and other infringements on their liberty are onerous, honest people will be forced to bribe officials, smuggle and steal just to get by. People living under such laws come to see officials as enemies rather than protectors. They come to see the law as an imposition rather than upholding their rights.

In 2004 Åke Green, a Pentecostal Christian pastor, was sentenced to one month in prison under Sweden’s hate speech law for criticizing homosexual practices in a sermon. Under the natural law, his
speech was no crime because no one has the right not to be criticized. On the contrary, every school child is taught the rhyme, Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Stifling the free speech of a preacher is a gross infringement of the rights of both the preacher and his congregation.

The Swedes disgrace themselves living under such laws. Accepting immoral laws is not an innocuous act. Such people become conditioned to accept and acquiesce in all manner of evils. This recalls the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The question for those who lived under the Nazis was not, “Am I a Communist, a socialist, a trade unionist, a socialist, or a Jew?” Rather, the question was, “If I were a Communist, a socialist, a trade unionist, a socialist, or a Jew, would I like the Gestapo to come and drag me off to a concentration camp?” Likewise, for the Swedes the question is not, “Do I want anti-homosexual speech quashed?” but rather, “Would I like it if expressing my opinion earned me a jail sentence?”

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove