Must we obey ridiculous laws?

The issue of the law of God vs the law of the state often comes up and its something that I have so many questions about and I have not received a cohesive answer up to this point so I was hoping for some insight. I know in the new testament it says to obey those in authority over us in so far as what they are doing does not transgress the laws of God. but my quesiton is, when does the government go too far, to the point where we do not have to obey a certain law? for example, if the government made a law that outlawed going to mass; obviously this law is unjust and we would not be obliged to follow it. Now on the other side of the spectrum, lets say there was a law that said everyone had to wear the color red on Tuesdays. Would we have to follow this ridiculous law? According to the answers I have heard on this subject, yes, we would have to obey this law and be forced to wear red on tuesdays seeing as it doesn’t directly transgress a law of God. Now this seems totally off to me, and I am wondering if the Church has any sort of doctrine on law in general and what we are expected to follow. Now the example of wearing red is extreme, but there are tons of laws already on the books of equal ridiculousness and annoyance, so my quesiton is how far must we go in compliance with the law?

From the Catechism, paragraph 2242
The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men”:

When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.

I suppose it depends if the ridiculous law is the result of the local authority overstepping its competence. To that end, I would say that we would be obliged to wear red on Tuesdays, and then work hard within the established framework to have that law over turned.

Revolution! I look terrible in red!

Actually, I pretty much agree with the previous post. We have to obey ridiculous laws, so long as they are not unjust. We do not have any obligation to stay the course with our government though. We can change laws. We can vote out, overthrow, dethrone etc… I do not think you red shirt issue would condone violence, but certainly it would be grounds to have the ruler(s) removed on account of their obvious mental illness.

Isn’t an infringement of my rights to be told what to wear? I see no compelling reason why such a law should be obeyed.

Aye there’s the rub. One person can decide it is an infringement while someone else may not think so. Most of the time, I think it will be obvious to your average, reasonable person if a law oversteps those bounds. If a ridiculous law is merely ridiculous, then we need to obey it and work to have it changed using the proper systems in place. If it ridiculous and it violates the laws of God, then you need to disobey.

Good question. A real life example of this, in Michigan a woman’s hair legally belongs to her husband and she technically needs permission to cut it or dye it.

Also, its illegal to sleep in your bath tub in Detroit, MI.

Do we REALLY have to follow these laws? Is it sinful for me to take a trip to Detroit to see the Tigers and take a little nap in my hotel bath tub? (may be sinful to actually want to watch the Tigers but that’s another story)

And yes, these laws are still ‘on the books’.

If you go to public (and presumably most private schools too) grade or high school, you cannot wear a shirt that says “**** YOU!”, right?

True, but apples and oranges.

Ah, but how about some of the non-offensive stuff on tee-shirts. Betcha “Jesus Saves” or “Repent, the Kingdom is at hand” would provide matter for banning.

Wouldn’t we consider a rule that prevents a private citizen from expressing their religious views to be ridiculous, as long as it was not offensive to other religions?

I wonder if you are thinking of some law in particular?

If you’re assuming its a drinking law, that’s not what I had in mind even though it is a bit ridiculous you can go to war in this country at 18 but can’t have a beer. but that’s besides the point.

The laws I am really thinking about with this thread are over bearing laws that intrude on your life. For example, where I live, you can’t hang a chandelier in your own home without going to the town for permission to do so in permit form.

And during the great depression, certain states actually made it illegal to frown, presumably out of a desire to boost morale. But quite obviously, this law is ridiculous. look it up yourself!

And the general underlying concern with this thread was, do we have to consent to being taken advantage of when the basic tenets of this country oppose the idea that the government should take advantage of its citizens?

Ok, that law sounds ridiculous, I agree. It would seem that breaking that law would not consistute grave matter.

If the government passes a law that takes advantage of its citizens, by definition, wouldn’t that law be unjust?

But taking advantage is really something that cannot be objectively determined and is often up to interpretation. I’m sure a rich guy who has a higher tax rate than someone poorer feels he is being taken advantage of, but that obviously does not mean he should not pay his taxes. And most people would not consider that being taken advantage of to begin with, but that is what the danger is here; trying to balance out fairness and justice while at the same time not opening a Pandora’s box by giving people license to not obey laws they feel are not just when their sentiments may not be well grounded.

I often feel this is one area that the Church needs to provide clarification on. Because it was a lot simpler in earlier times; what the ruler of the country said, that was the law, and if the law was not opposed to the law of God, it was to be followed. But now, in more modern times, countries are governed by law that is written down and law that is above the reach of rulers. And the rulers themselves are transient, as is the case with democratic countries, So are we to obey the foundationally legitimate written law such as the constitution? or obey corrupt representatives that abuse that legitimate written law and attempt to bend it to their own malicious intentions? Do we obey the governing person? or the law that governs all, including the one who governs?

What would be the purpose of wrearing Red on Tuesdays?

Daniel and his friends had to deal with a diet from the King that was contray to dietary laws. They purposed a compromise.

If for example, the purpose of wearing red was to honor the King as a human ruler whom God set up, then Yes. But, if it had overtones of worshipping the King as God, then no.

Actually, wearing Red is a good example.

I lived in Venezuela for a period of time a few years ago, during the Referendum campaign against Hugo Chavez. Red was the color his supporters used to express solidarity. Wearing red on Saturdays meant you were allowed to enter the (government run) banks and conduct business. Those not willing to show visible support for Chavez were not allowed to bank on Saturdays. Low interest loans were offered as a “Saturday only” special promotion.

My reason for bringing this up?

If wearing red on Tuesdays was just at some lawmakers whim, then it’s a ridiculous law. BUT if wearing red on Tuesdays is a way to disciminate, it’s an unjust law. In the former case, we would be free to follow the law or not. In the latter case, we should resist the law since it’s unjust.

Just a thought: let us assume that a new law says that we must wear the color red on Tuesdays under penalty of a big fine or being arrested.
Since I am married and have children, I have a responsibility to comply with the law so as to:
-be a good example for my children
-not get myself a police record (which could have consequences on my family as well)
-not waste our household money on a fine that I could easily avoid
-not deprive my family from my presence in the home while I’m in jail

Hanging a chandelier could have some structural repercussions. The smart citizen would indeed get a permit.

I have heard a theory that one is not obliged to obey laws which do not deal with inherent morality (for example, jaywalking) provided one is prepared to accept the consequences of getting caught.

Okay. I get what you are saying, but come on… Don’t you see the government having to give you the OK for your dining room fixtures as being… just a little bit intrusive and ridiculous? The government should not be babysitting every little thing people do. In my opinion, laws like this are the product of a complete shift in the culture where grown adults need to be babysat by those in authority, and its not fair or just when even the most minuscule aspects of life are regulated by the government. I should have the right to hang a chandelier in my home, without having to go to town hall to wait for a permit, wait for them to review my intentions and then pay a fee for getting permission. surely you all can see how ridiculous this! and if I hang up my chandelier and it falls and breaks due to my negligence then its my fault and I will deal with it, but why should the government have to babysit me? it shouldn’t.

And I can go on and on with laws such as these, especially the new “green” laws.

The new one in my area is that you cannot leave your car on idle for more than 5 minutes. Things like this are so overbearing, its stops becoming funny to just read laws like this. If I am taking my grandmother to the post office to mail a letter and I wait in the car and leave it running while I wait for her to come out. it just seems so preposterous that after 5 minutes I should be forced under penalty of law to turn my car off, as if the extra minutes of emission will destroy the environment. :shrug:

or worse yet, how about the new light bulb laws politicians are trying to pass? Forcing you with the power of law to use a certain type of light bulb, and not use some other kind that uses up more energy. Whatever happened to the right to own property? Can I not make the choice of purchasing and owning the light bulbs that I want?

You know something is wrong, when you have the right to abort a child, but don’t have the right to buy a light bulb of your choice.

I do agree with you that the general system of over-regulation is overbearing (although I wouldn’t say ridiculous), but these laws are not intrinsically immoral, and so their removal needs to come from the political process.

The situation is much less clear when the context is our job working environment.

We may be forced to wear red or a pirate’s hat and we have to deal with that.

I hope that employees in restaurants wash their hands before returning to work (after using the facilities). I worked in a hospital, and there was a rule to wash my hands in-between dealing with any two patients.

Some rules are obvious and we comply with them, then there are rules that may require us being trained to appreciate, like tagging out electrical equipment (properly) before working on it, or wearing eye protection, or following chemical decontamination procedures.

What’s more problematic for me is when I see employees disobey a rule, because they don’t seem to understand the concept – like when I see restaurant employees use plastic gloves in a way obviously to protect themselves, but don’t used them rationally to protect me the customer.

Or, when employees handle money then just go on to handle food without washing their hands before handling the food. That bugs me the most. I’ve just walked out rather than argue with anybody.

I saw a phlebotomist in a hospital pick up an alcohol swab off the floor then use it on a patient. People are clueless.This is exactly how patients pick up new diseases in a hospital, because the staff is too “smart” to follow the rules for preventing cross-contamination. Believe me, doctors are no “saints” when it comes to following rules, either. Your life is at stake in a hospital, whether you know it or not.

“Ridiculous” is an irrational term to use here, unless you really know what could go wrong if you don’t follow a rule. In most cases I’ve seen, “ridiculous” is just a word for something that is inconvenient. Why not do the job correctly? What are you being paid for? I’m billed for the job done correctly; why do I have to settle for a job not done correctly?

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