“The law is constantly based on notions of morality, and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the due process clause, the courts will be very busy indeed.”- Byron White
Whenever the word ‘legality’ comes into the picture, we automatically assume that morality is attached to it. For a layman, there is no distinction between legality and morality, but when we go down to the roots, we establish the understanding that everything that’s moral is not legal and vice versa.
The question here is then what is right, Being Legally Right or Being Morally Right? Well to answer this question, we need to understand what Law and Morality are, and what supersedes!
Beginning with Morality, what is Morality?
As described by the Oxford Dictionary, “Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior; A particular system of values and principles of conduct; The extent to which an action is right or wrong.”
Therefore, Morality is the conflict within our souls to make us distinguish between a right action and a wrong action. Remember, while copying the answers in the exam you felt your heart thumping as it would just come out! It was your morals telling you that this act is wrong. Morality decides our conduct and greatly influences our choices and acts. Articles that fall into the list of morally sound things are qualities like goodness, rightness, impartial, honesty, righteousness and all such profound sacred words.
Moral Virtue is a composite loop of values and peculiar decisions and judgments based on various cultural, religious, and philosophical concepts and beliefs. These beliefs control our behavior. When we adapt the codification, we are considered to be morally upright.
Conclusively, one behaves in accordance with one’s discernment of morality. However, it’s not just the morals and the person, that person is a part of a society and a state and the state has “Laws”. So, every time a person behaves he has to abide by the legal rules as well. This is how the conflict starts. Initially we think everything that’s legal is moral, but my friend that’s not true. Something may be legal but considered unacceptable or immoral and we may consider something right but it maybe illegal.
Let me proceed with a very small and common example, many companies are facing strong public criticism for not paying adequate taxes in a number of jurisdictions. While this may not be an illegal act, it is considered wrong and immoral.
The problem starts when a layman stands at a crossroad where one side is legality and the other side is morality. For example, helping a Jewish family to hide from the Nazis was against German law in 1939, but it would have been a morally commendable thing to do. After all being a human being how can you deny shelter to the needy? Your morals won’t allow you to be so evil and inconsiderate that you don’t help them in the hour of urgency.
Henceforth, with this simple example I want all of you to understand that not following a law is not always immoral, even if we live in a democratic society. There can be occurrences and surroundings where, all things considered as violation of law would be morally permissible, perhaps even morally required.
I conclude by recalling Martin Luther King’ proficient words, “One has a moral responsibility to obey unjust laws.”