If one eats pork, where it’s forbidden from eating, would that person be liable for punishment? What if one takes part in a protest for more Democratic space, which has been proscribed by the Government. Is that person justified in his/her cause? Are the police justified to kill in the commission of the crime to protect innocent lives, with many viewing taking of another life, no matter the situation, as wrong?
The above questions test our fundamental values & principles as what is considered Immoral by others is legal according to the Laws of the land, and vice-versa.
Thus creating a thin line between Morality & Law, sometimes so narrow that is indistinguishable from the other, even considers them interdependent. But in varying circumstances, the line is evident with each governed by its values & principles.
According to the Collins Dictionary, Morality is the belief that some behavior is right & acceptable and that the other action is wrong. In broader terms is a system of principles & values concerning people’s behavior, which is generally accepted by society or by a particular group of people.
If one eats meat in a place where the majority abstains from it due to their beliefs & principles, he/she will be considered immoral. Another example is if one engages in pre-marital sex, in a society where marriage before sex is a taboo, they’re also immoral.
By committing such taboos, are we liable to be punished, is there any basis to punish those who have gone against the accepted norms set by society. These are principles that guided our community even before our Grandparents were born and served as a yardstick for generations.
According to Wikipedia, Law is a system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior or, in broader terms, a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or communities adhere to the will of the state.
Hence, if one takes part in an unlawful protest, regardless of how right the reasons are or how they align with their innate beliefs & principles, they will face the full force of the law as enshrined in the constitution and enforced by relevant institutions.
But if one takes meat in a society where it’s a taboo, the person will be wrong according to the society but legally right to the law or engages in pre-marital sex; the situation will still be the same.
In some cases, what is morally wrong in society can also be illegal; for example, in Islamic societies engaging in pre or extramarital affairs is not only a sin but also illegal with punishment meted in line with the Quran. In such societies, it’s hard to distinguish between Law & Morality as our Moral Compass forms the basis in creating Laws that govern us and enforced by Institutions.
Some have gone further, stating the majority of laws passed are indeed guided by our Moral value, which is true, for example, what has generally been considered wrong by the society, e.g., public nudity can be enacted passed into law prohibiting such behavior with Consequences if violated.
In such a scenario, there’s no line to distinguish between Law & Morality as they are interdependent, and one serves as a basis in the formation of the other. Good examples are countries with State Religion, e.g., Islamic countries like Iran, Pakistan, where Sharia law based on the Quran forms the foundation of laws enacted by the Government.
But in modern Western Democratic countries, there’s a clear line between Law & Morality, and are independent of each other. For example, Abortion is a taboo in many societies, and laws enacted outlawing it. In the west, the Rationality of Law takes precedence, and the mother has the right to keep or terminate the pregnancy. Hence the emphasis is on the Rights of an Individual than the collective conscience of the society.
Just as the saying goes, another man’s meat is another man’s poison. In Law & Morality, what is considered morally wrong in one society is legally right in another and vice versa. The thin line keeps them from clashing with each other in matters of Values & Principles and ensuring a somehow balanced society guided by the Rule of Law.