The Supreme Snoops

At first glance, the list reads like the plot elements of a Danielle Steele novel: sex, power, greed, guns, abortion, and suicide. But it's no novel. I'm talking about the docket of the new Supreme Court term that began this month. These issues demonstrate how deeply the law now penetrates into every corner of our lives. Over the next nine months, the Court will decide issues that range from physician-assisted suicide to entertainment options for couch potatoes. That's right, the august justices will even decide if your cable company can be required to carry your local NBC affiliate. The irony is that even as the law takes over more and more aspects of our lives, it has lost its hold on our consciences. The law has lost its moral authority, and the evidence of this decline is everywhere. It's in the crimes that shock and outrage us. But it's also in the actions of ordinary citizens--such as when juries disregard judges' instructions and vote by their private feelings. A decline in the law's moral authority is a serious threat to any nation, but particularly to a free society like ours with limited government. That's because the law is a God-ordained "fire wall" for restraining human evil. Evil is first restrained by shared assumptions about right and wrong. Then this moral consensus is codified into law. This moral content gives law its authority. In the seventeenth century, Scottish cleric Samuel Rutherford wrote his great treatise Lex Rex , which means "the law is king." Rutherford declared that everyone--whether king or pauper--is subject to a transcendent law that is based on God's law. This was a profoundly revolutionary concept at the time, and it was later adopted by the American Founders. What Rutherford understood is that law is at the heart of true liberty: It enables a nation to enjoy liberty without descending into chaos. The American Founders called this "ordered liberty." But today our experiment in ordered liberty is in peril. Why? Because people no longer understand law as the expression of transcendent moral truths. When that happens, law is reduced to merely legal procedures. As Harvard professor Michael Sandel writes, America has become a "procedural republic." Without a moral base for law, procedural rules multiply rapidly until today the courts are regulating almost every area of life--as evidenced by the Supreme Court's docket for this year. As ordered liberty collapses, it's replaced by a bureaucratic tyranny in which government functionaries and judges regulate everything from life and death to what television programs we watch. America no longer enjoys the rule of law but the rule of judges. The only escape from this soft tyranny is a restoration of a transcendent basis for the law. In our schools, in our churches, in letters to the editor, in discussions with neighbors over the back fence, we need to communicate the classic biblical understanding of the law as an objective standard to which even government rulers are subject. A nation can enjoy ordered liberty only if its citizens believe that behind the law of the land is the ultimate authority: the law of God. And then we can get the Supreme Court out of the business of dealing with topics more worthy of Danielle Steele novels.


Chuck Colson


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