Are We Morally Obligated to Follow Obamacare?

 

When people are defending a law they like from moral arguments against it, one common retort is that we are a nation of laws, which creates an obligation to follow laws even when we don’t like them — because we otherwise open ourselves up to anarchy and various other existential consequences.

Rarely do I hear people coming to the defense of a law they personally dislike with the same ferocity as those they feel meet their prefered ends.

If someone had a way to avoid Obamacare illegally and get away with it, would it be appropriate to chastise him as a moral deviant for not following the letter of the law? Should we demand the government do more to prosecute him? Does the person become a criminal as long as he continues to successfully flout it?

Do we have a moral obligation to follow Obamacare, less we cease to be a country where our laws are respected?

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  1. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Currently Obamacare isn’t a law as much as it is a hodge-podge of illegal executive edicts. 

    Congress itself hasn’t submitted itself to the law by virtue of the subsidy they finagled themselves. Why are we peasants obliged to follow it?

    • #31
  2. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    James Of England:When the scripture tells us to accept the authority of secular institutions (1 Peter 2:12-25), the emperor that we were instructed to obey (and honor) was Nero. If you think that Obamacare is worse than Nero’s abuses, then perhaps there is an argument that we have no moral duty to comply with the law, but assuming you have some degree of proportion, obedience is demanded.

    But again, assuming you have some sense of proportion, not all laws are worth obeying to the letter.For example, it’s breaking some law, I’m sure, to help people obtain certain controlled substances without a prescription. Nonetheless, I have no problem giving someone in pain a Vicodin tablet, if I happen to have a spare one handy.And what about speed limits? Disobeying them is technically breaking the law, yet I do it all the time, and I’m not even a particularly zippy driver. I just drive at the speed of traffic.

     It’s worth remembering that the bible’s regularly repeated injunctions (Samuel’s discussion of Saul’s kingship, Esther’s discussion of her duty to support the king (which she would do if the Jews were to be sold into slavery, but she felt that killing all of the Jews was serious enough to mitigate her duty), Matthew 17’s support for paying unjust taxes, Romans 13, countless parables) are about the authority of the government, not about fidelity to the law. I believe strongly in the rule of law as a secular principle, but I’m not sure that we can read it into the bible easily.

    Where your traveling at the speed of traffic, absent suggestions that the government wants you to stop (flashing signs, speed traps, etc.), you’re conforming rather than rebelling. I’d guess that the head of state would be fine with your giving your friend a Vicodin. I’m pretty sure he’s not fine with tax evasion.

    • #32
  3. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    James Of England: Where your traveling at the speed of traffic, absent suggestions that the government wants you to stop (flashing signs, speed traps, etc.)

    Aren’t the speed limit signs at regular intervals along the freeway a pretty unambiguous indicator that the government wants you to slow down?

    • #33
  4. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Aaron Miller:

    Mike H:

    Aaron Miller:If it was a genuine law, then there would be a moral obligation. But Obamacare was passed without having been even read first, so it is not a true law. 

    Are you the arbiter of genuine law? It seems a rather post hoc argument for a law you don’t like.

    ”We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” In my lifetime, I do not recall such a blatant declaration being applied to any other law. Certainly, many other laws have delegated Congressional authority by questionable degrees to unelected bureaucrats. But the method by which Obamacare was passed, regardless of its contents, was plainly undemocratic.

    It’s an unusual gaffe, sure,  but I don’t think that it changes the substance of democratic procedures. Lawmakers have always voted on the basis of a vague sense of the impact of the laws; any libertarian will tell you that the unintended consequences of laws generally outweigh the intended consequences. I don’t see how Obamacare is different.

    Obamacare was passed by a majority of the elected representatives of the American people, (a supermajority in the Senate) and signed into law by a President who had been elected into office by a majority of the American voters. That’s how American democracy works.

    How many people do you think read Reagan’s 882 page Tax Reform Act of 1986? Go ahead and try to read 10 pages of it, such that you understand. I agree that Pelosi’s gaffe was more explicit than most non-readings, but those non-readings are normal, for both parties. Indeed, the policy of non-reading is pretty close to essential (reading these bills as if they were novels is not a good way of getting to know what they do). Since we don’t want to say that tax reform and other intrinsically complex areas of law are unconstitutional, we need to have unread bills (unread by politicians, but read by staffers and wonks who summarize it for politicians). Joe Barton, for instance, is about as conservative as they come, and his Energy Policy Act of 2005 is handy, but you can’t believe that many people read 226,492 words of energy law.

    As conservatives, we don’t believe that politicians can make more than educated guesses about the country. Demanding that our politicians act like rational central planners fails to understand the role that they play.

    Now, you might say that the United States has not been a democracy during your lifetime, because this has certainly been the practice of your lifetime; even in the 1950s, a politician could become notable for reading an entire budget bill, because few did (as noted in Caro’s biography of LBJ’s time in the Senate; LBJ did not do so, but struggled with the one senator who did). I don’t think it’s sensible to say that it’s plain that this is true, though. Indeed, I would say that most laymen and most experts would agree that the US has been a representative democracy since its founding and continues to be one today. If a politician wishes to vote against things they don’t understand, they’re welcome to do that, and this happens sometimes, but the electoral results appear to suggest that the people democratically choose to have politicians who act more pragmatically, voting on all kinds of stuff they don’t understand.

    • #34
  5. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Joseph Stanko:

    James Of England: Where your traveling at the speed of traffic, absent suggestions that the government wants you to stop (flashing signs, speed traps, etc.)

    Aren’t the speed limit signs at regular intervals along the freeway a pretty unambiguous indicator that the government wants you to slow down?

     I agree that speed limits are fertile ground for debates over the meaning of the law as a cultural and theological debate. I don’t think that the signs are as dispositive on this, though, as you suggest. The signs tell you what kind of zone you’re in; if the signs say 30, for instance, or “School Zone”, then the government probably cares a lot about your speed. Signs that make it clear that this is not a school zone serve functions other than berating drivers. If the police observing behavior are unlikely to prosecute it, it’s probably not something that challenges the government’s authority. The government’s primary interest is in safety, and it’s my understanding that traveling at the speed of traffic is often more supportive of that than traveling slower. If MFR finds herself getting ticketed, though, or engaging in endeavors to avoid the police, then I think she should treat the tickets as a moral warning and recall Paul’s words highlighting the difficulty of avoiding God’s enforcement.

    • #35
  6. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Aaron Miller:James Of England: Do you have any Catholic or Christian authorities for the claim that a law that is not read by legislators is not a law?I appeal to logic, not to any authority.Or, rather, I appeal to the authority of citizens in a democratic republic. Do you acknowledge such authority? Have we abandoned the philosophy, so fundamental to the American order, that the authority of government derives from the people? Are we willing to relinquish such authority in the wake of the District of Columbia’s increasing assertions of power?

    Citizens in a democratic republic have many rights, but the ability to unilaterally disregard disfavored laws is not amongst them. It is hard to argue that Obamacare lacks the consent of the governed when most of the representatives who passed it have been re-elected twice following its passage, and most of the Senators either have been re-elected or will be in November. Some Americans are very angry about it, but America just isn’t that angry; “fixing” Obamacare polls better than “repealing” it.

    It’s fine for you to appeal to logic, but if previous authorities have not supported the logic, there’s probably a reason for that.

    American citizens must make a choice. Either demand your natural rights as declared in the Constitution, along with all the basic expectations on which a democratic republic must stand, or stop pretending that your rights and freedoms are defined by anything other than power

    You’ve admitted yourself that the natural rights you’re espousing are not declared in the Constitution (although you say that this is because they were too obvious to declare, I hope you can see that if the Constitution did demand that Congressmen understood the laws they passed, this requirement would have yielded unending mischief).

    • #36
  7. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    If someone had a way to avoid Obamacare illegally and get away with it, would it be appropriate to chastise him as a moral deviant for not following the letter of the law? usw

    Of course.

    Do we have a moral obligation to follow Obamacare, less we cease to be a country where our laws are respected?

    Yes.  And no.  The way out of the conundrum is civil disobedience.  But this isn’t just disobeying/ignoring the law; it includes accepting the consequences of that disobedience.  After all, it’s the combination of the widespread disobedience and the punishment for the disobedience that demonstrates the absurdity of the law and forces its rescission.

    Eric Hines

    • #37
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Joseph Stanko:

    One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.-Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

     I believe that is a paraphrase of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and I think he was talking about slavery. 

    • #38
  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I’ll be honest. I’m taken aback by the Ricocheti defense of one of the worst laws in the name of “the law.” I thought this would be an open and shut case of complete moral imperative to violate the law with full support of the circumvention and condemnation of the enforcement.

    I learned something today, and it explains a lot.

    • #39
  10. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    While I disagree that it is pragmatic or acceptable for representatives to vote on anything without having at least read it (A politician, more than anyone, should know better than to trust a politician), I accept your correction that there have been many other instances of that scenario. I condemn the action by either party. But I was wrong to treat it as a recent and isolated phenomenon.

    James Of England: It is hard to argue that Obamacare lacks the consent of the governed when most of the representatives who passed it have been re-elected twice following its passage, and most of the Senators either have been re-elected or will be in November. Some Americans are very angry about it, but America just isn’t that angry; “fixing” Obamacare polls better than “repealing” it.

    Granted, sadly.

    I guess I am just not willing to accept the low standards of freedom to which modern Americans have become accustomed.  While it is true that Americans are better off than most other peoples around the world in many respects, we will not long remain so if our standards are infinitely malleable.

    Nor should we content ourselves to live as any other people. If our forefathers’ exceptional standards of freedom were possible then, those standards are possible still today. We should strive to remain exceptional.

    • #40
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    James Of England:

    Joseph Stanko:

    James Of England: Where your traveling at the speed of traffic, absent suggestions that the government wants you to stop (flashing signs, speed traps, etc.)

    Aren’t the speed limit signs at regular intervals along the freeway a pretty unambiguous indicator that the government wants you to slow down?

    I agree that speed limits are fertile ground for debates over the meaning of the law as a cultural and theological debate. I don’t think that the signs are as dispositive on this, though, as you suggest. The signs tell you what kind of zone you’re in…

    Well, that’s just it. The letter of the speeding laws say one thing (specific numbers, divisible by five, between 5 and 70-90), but the spirit of them seems rather different: 20 or less means roughly “be very much on your guard for vulnerable pedestrians or dangerous curves”; 25-30 means roughly “go at a speed safe for residential traffic”; 35-45 means roughly “go at a speed safe for traffic on a main thoroughfare in a congested area”; 50-60 means roughly “go at a speed safe for a city highway; 65+ means “you can usually go pretty fast here and still be safe”. Except if there’s a policeman around who needs to meet the ticket quota or who has a bad case of PMS (and I’ve met plenty of men who could be described this way). Then it’s the letter of the law, not the spirit, that applies. Oh, and there are those places where the speed limit drops drastically for no obvious reason other than revenue collection.

    If MFR finds herself getting ticketed, though, or engaging in endeavors to avoid the police, then I think she should treat the tickets as a moral warning and recall Paul’s words highlighting the difficulty of avoiding God’s enforcement.

    I haven’t gotten speeding tickets.

    I do, however, try to stay out of trouble, including slowing down if I sense a speed trap. I don’t know if that counts as “engaging in endeavors to avoid the police”.

    • #41
  12. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    James Of England:

    I’d guess that the head of state would be fine with your giving your friend a Vicodin. I’m pretty sure he’s not fine with tax evasion.

    Also, are we not supposedly a government of laws rather than men?

    If we had a head of state who believed in bringing the dull weight of the law down on minor drug offenders such as girls who share Vicodin, but more indifferent towards tax evasion, would that matter?

    • #42
  13. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Mike H:I’ll be honest. I’m taken aback by the Ricocheti defense of one of the worst laws in the name of “the law.” I thought this would be an open and shut case of complete moral imperative to violate the law with full support of the circumvention and condemnation of the enforcement.I learned something today, and it explains a lot.

    And I’m surprised by how many Ricocheti appear to think it’s ok to ignore laws they don’t like, so long as they are clever enough to not get caught.  So I suppose we both learned something. I think there are two specific components of Obamacare you can make a case for ignoring:

    1) The contraception and abortifacient mandate: here is a clear case where the law conflicts with natural and divine law — at least in the deeply held religious convictions of many — and the government has no right to force them to violate their conscience.

    2) The individual mandate: here I agree with Tom Davis in #18, that since the Supreme Court has ruled this a tax, there is no moral imperative to minimize one’s tax burden.

    But aside from those two points, the rest of the law is the law of the land and should be obeyed unless and until it is altered or repealed.

    • #43
  14. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Tom Davis: According to our Chief Justice, we have two distinct legal paths to follow with Obamacare:  The first path allows us to buy the prescribed insurance for ourselves and for our employees; and, the second path allows us to pay a tax.  Either one of these by itself is legal and “follows the Obamacare law”.  It is sort of like I can contribute to some charity and get a tax deduction or I can pay the income tax on the money that I declined to contribute.

    I think that’s spot on, either option is legitimate.  However I do think it would be immoral to falsely claim to have the required insurance in order to avoid paying the tax.

    • #44
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I would follow my conscience if it was different from the law.

    • #45
  16. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: 50-60 means roughly “go at a speed safe for a city highway; 65+ means “you can probably go pretty fast here and still be safe”.

     You presume that the sole motivation of the law is safety.

    Jan 2, 1974:

    Nixon signs national speed limit into law

    As part of his response to the embargo, President Nixon signed a federal law lowering all national highway speed limits to 55 mph. The act was intended to force Americans to drive at speeds deemed more fuel-efficient, thereby curbing the U.S. appetite for foreign oil.

    • #46
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Joseph Stanko:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: 50-60 means roughly “go at a speed safe for a city highway; 65+ means “you can probably go pretty fast here and still be safe”.

    You presume that the sole motivation of the law is safety.

    No, I don’t presume the motivation was safety. I know it wasn’t ;-)

    But the  useful meaning  of speed limits is in signifying some level of caution.

    • #47
  18. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    It is hard to make the case…with a straight face, anyway…that anything about this law and the legislative process that thrust it upon us are in any way legitimate. Hence, I agree with Mr. Hamilton:

    “Hence, in a state of nature, no man had any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property or liberty; … Hence also, the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people…or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience.” [1]

    The Ruling Class no longer hides their contempt…the lack of respect for our laws is clearly emanating from inside the beltway…the compact has already been broken. For my part, I recognize no such obligation.

    • #48
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:If we had a head of state who believed in bringing the  dull  weight of the law…

    I meant to write  full  weight of the law.

    Typo? Or Freudian slip?

    • #49
  20. user_928618 Inactive
    user_928618
    @JimLion

    When a law, like Obamacare, flouts the Constitution, doesn’t the law itself break the law?

    • #50
  21. user_928618 Inactive
    user_928618
    @JimLion

    To Joseph Stanko

    It’s not merely a question of not liking this law. This law violates the conscience. You have no ground to stand on here that isn’t quicksand.

    • #51
  22. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But the  useful meaning  of speed limits is in signifying some level of caution.

     So do you think we’re only obliged to follow useful laws?

    • #52
  23. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    philo: The Ruling Class no longer hides their contempt

    What Ruling Class?  A clear majority of American voters elected Obama, then re-elected him after 4 years during which his signature accomplishment was Obamacare.  That is a mandate.

    It would actually be easier, I suspect, to organize and galvanize people to overthrow a Ruling Class if one existed.  We face the much more difficult challenge of persuading our fellow citizens that their beliefs are wrong and ours are right.

    • #53
  24. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Jim Lion: This law violates the conscience.

     What precisely does this law force you to do that violates your conscience?

    • #54
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Joseph Stanko:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: But the useful meaning of speed limits is in signifying some level of caution.

    So do you think we’re only obliged to follow useful laws?

    All I think is that you were confusing the intent of a law with its usefulness, in this one instance.

    • #55
  26. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    James Of England:I’d guess that the head of state would be fine with your giving your friend a Vicodin. I’m pretty sure he’s not fine with tax evasion.

    Also, are we not supposedly a government of laws rather than men?If we had a head of state who believed in bringing the dull weight of the law down on minor drug offenders such as girls who share Vicodin, but more indifferent towards tax evasion, would that matter?

    The government ruling justly is a duty of the government’s, but equality before the law is not a Christian demand; recall Paul’s willingness to flaunt his legal privilege as a Roman, or the comfort with slavery. There are plenty of things that we strongly support, including democracy and football, that don’t find a lot of biblical sanction.  If our head of state and his delegates care deeply about stupid things and little about important things, then we should respect that and respect his rulings. Again, recall Esther’s standard (your entire race being sold into slavery is not enough to justify disobedience, although death is), and that the Emperor specifically endorsed was Nero; both enslaving an entire race and many of Nero’s atrocities are terrible ideas, worse even than drug law enforcement. Matthew 17 makes it clear that our compliance is not based on the rulers being right, but applies even where they are terrible.

    • #56
  27. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    James Of England: but equality before the law is not a Christian demand

     Doesn’t that directly contradict the central thesis of the Declaration of Independence?

    • #57
  28. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    James Of England: The government ruling justly is a duty of the government’s, but equality before the law is not a Christian demand

    And doesn’t ruling justly require equality before the law?

    • #58
  29. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Joseph Stanko:1) The contraception and abortifacient mandate:….the government has no right to force them to violate their conscience.

     I agree with this entirely. Daniel and Maccabees, particularly 4th Maccabees, make it very clear that our absolute duty to the emperor and delegates does not extend to the commission of sin, or to giving others the impression that we are committing sin.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Well, that’s just it. The letter of the speeding laws say one thing (specific numbers, divisible by five, between 5 and 70-90), but the spirit of them seems rather different:I do, however, try to stay out of trouble, including slowing down if I sense a speed trap. I don’t know if that counts as “engaging in endeavors to avoid the police”.

     I think that if you’re obeying not the law but the government, it’s the spirit that counts. I’m not sure how much the speed traps are intended to alter behavior locally, but I agree that the need to hide behavior can be a signal.

    • #59
  30. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Joseph Stanko:

    What Ruling Class? …a Ruling Class if one existed….

    While, except for your use of the word “mandate”, I do not disagree with your sentiments regarding the voters and the challenge we face, this particular blind spot of yours really limits the usefulness of any further discussion on this subject. Especially at this hour of the morning.  Thanks.

    • #60
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