The case of unjust laws

So I am a tad bit confused on how to organize a law as unjust or just. Neither the bible nor the CCC are specific on this topic. Of course, there is the case that if a law is contrary to the moral order (just or unjust) it must not be followed. Though, the CCC tells us that Unjust laws are not binding in conscience.

So my question is this. Is a law unjust if:

  • It causes economic harm
  • A hindrance to cultural development
  • Foolish/Dumb (i.e All buildings must be painted blue, Underwear must be bought from THIS person)
  • Against a moral RIGHT (not law)
  • Prevents a certain act for their own gain (Only one part of society benefits)
  • Just plain useless to society / Unnecessary (Does not meet an identified legislative need, Does not solve that problem effectively, and causes worse damage in the process)

So I am a tad bit confused on how to organize a law as unjust or just. Neither the bible nor the CCC are specific on this topic. Of course, there is the case that if a law is contrary to the moral order (just or unjust) it must not be followed. Though, the CCC tells us that Unjust laws are not binding in conscience.

So my question is this. Is a law unjust if:

  • It causes economic harm
  • A hindrance to cultural development
  • Foolish/Dumb (i.e All buildings must be painted blue, Underwear must be bought from THIS person)
  • Against a moral RIGHT (not law)
  • Prevents a certain act for their own gain (Only one part of society benefits)
  • Just plain useless to society / Unnecessary (Does not meet an identified legislative need, Does not solve that problem effectively, and causes worse damage in the process)

It is my understanding that a law is only unjust if it commands what God forbids or rewards what God punishes. I don’t think the other laws you mention constitute “a kind of violence,” which is how the Catechism describes unjust laws.

That depends on what you mean by harm. A business having to install handicapped access ramps may consider it economic harm because it costs them something. That does not make it unjust.

  • A hindrance to cultural development

Can you give an example?

  • Foolish/Dumb (i.e All buildings must be painted blue, Underwear must be bought from THIS person)

As a practical matter, no government has an incentive to pass laws that do not make sense to anybody. Some people consider zoning laws that restrict the colors you can paint your house if you live in a historic preservation district to be foolish and dumb, but others see real value in preserving a historic district. Such laws are not unjust.

  • Against a moral RIGHT (not law)

Yes, this can very well be an unjust law.

  • Prevents a certain act for their own gain (Only one part of society benefits)

…a matter of legitimate debate…

  • Just plain useless to society / Unnecessary (Does not meet an identified legislative need, Does not solve that problem effectively, and causes worse damage in the process)

depends on the degree of damage.

Basically, a law is unjust if adhering to that law would cause you to sin.

In addition to a law that either requires a person to violate the Law of God or the natural law (or allows one to violate it without consequence), laws that either violate or permit violation of commutative or distributive justice should be considered unjust laws.

By economic harm, I mean that the costs heavily outweigh the benefits and it is breaking the system of things such as outdated business models

I’ve struggled with this question too, because I feel like the common answer given is insufficient. The common answer has been is that a law is unjust if it forces you to sin, and just if it does not. And as I said, this doesn’t seem to take certain things into account.

Imagine if you will, the case of laws that outlaw giving money to the homeless on the streets. It is not a sin to not give a particular homeless person on the street money, correct? So by the simplistic standard above, wouldn’t that mean, since the law does not legislate sin, that it is just and to be followed?

But how can anyone square such a law with the Gospel? To say that barring the homeless from receiving money directly from people on the street is unlawful, this seems so contrary to the teachings of Jesus; moreover how can anyone be considered to be doing wrong by breaking this law, especially if it meant saving a life by providing someone with the means to live?

Situations like these make me think there is more to it, and I’d love some clarification from papal documents or council documents. I can’t remember where I saw this, but I believe it was some Church document that said the justness of laws should be measured on how much they conform to the Gospel or serve the common good. If anyone knows what document this concept is from, I’d appreciate finding out what it is.

You might be thinking of CCC 1898 and 1903: CCC 1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. … Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.

CCC 1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. Those passages also make me think of these ones, in which, if I’m reading it correctly, the Church invites political leaders to base their laws on Church teaching and calls upon lay Catholics to try and make this happen: CCC 2244 Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. … The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against [the] inspired truth about God and man.

CCC 899 The initiative of lay Christians is necessary…for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church.

CCC 898 By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. … It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things…to Christ…

CCC 1979 The natural law is immutable, permanent throughout history. The rules that express it remain substantially valid. It is a necessary foundation for the erection of moral rules and civil law.

CCC 1952 There are different expressions of the moral law, all of them interrelated: eternal law - the source, in God, of all law; natural law; revealed law, comprising the Old Law and the New Law, or Law of the Gospel; finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws.

CCC 1886 Human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. … [Spiritual] benefits not only influence, but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic, and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.

read the catholic encyclopaedia,I think there it mentions that useless laws are not laws at all because they don’t serve the common good but just someones, altough I might be taking that part out of context. so better go and read the entire article.

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