Ignorance of the law

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” according to one legal maxim.  And yet, in order for people to obey the law, there must be a “presumption of knowledge of the law.”  Today, though, we not only have laws passed by legislatures, we have regulations passed by bureaucrats.  These have the force of law, and if you violate them, you can go to prison.  But whereas traditional laws have a connection to a moral principle–and so are knowable and understandable to the conscience–regulations simply promote a governmental goal.  And there are so many of them that is almost impossible to know them all.

So says Michael Anthony Cottone in “Rethinking Presumed Knowledge of the Law in a Regulatory Age,” in the Tennessee Law Review.  George Will reviews the article after the jump. [Read more…]

FBI’s bogus forensics

The public loves the television cop shows about crime-solving by means of  forensic science.  But we might want to reconsider the popularity of all of those CSI series.  The FBI is now admitting that over 95% of the forensic evidence from human hair over  two decades was mistaken.  These revelations affect hundreds of cases, including 32 death sentences and 14 defendants who have been executed or died in prison. [Read more…]

Tolerance vs. other liberties?

The University of Michigan was going to screen the Academy-Award-nominated American Sniper, but then cancelled it when students launched a petition claiming the movie was intolerant of Muslims.  But then other students launched a counter-petition saying that the university should show the movie in the name of artistic liberty and the freedom of expression.  Whereupon the university cancelled its cancellation and agreed to show the movie after all.

But the incident shows that the principle of tolerance above all can be used for many different purposes.  A consensus seems to be emerging that tolerance should trump religious liberty.  Might the demand for tolerance also be used to trump other civil liberties?

Freedom of Speech is arguably already muted by speech codes.  I suspect that we need to formally and legally work out the boundaries between tolerance and civil liberties.  Any ideas about how to draw those lines? [Read more…]

Our established religion

Yuval Levin says that the religious liberty issues raised by the response to the Indiana Religious Freedom law involves not just the First Amendment’s right to the “free exercise” of religion, but maybe even more so to the clause forbidding the “establishment” of religion.  What we have today being imposed is a single, authoritative religious ideology, equivalent to a state church:  that of progressive liberalism.

Levin then delves into James Madison on this subject and contrasts his position to that of John Locke, who advocated “toleration” of different views on the part of individuals but would not allow their institutional expression, since that had to be limited by the ideology of the state church. [Read more…]

“Free range” kids temporarily taken away from parents

We blogged about the parents in Maryland who got in trouble for letting their six and ten year old children walk home by themselves.  (See this and this.)   It happened again, and this time the Child Protective Services took their kids, if only temporarily.  CPS had found the parents guilty of child neglect, so this second offence could have serious consequences for the family.

UPDATE:  It’s even worse when we learn what the cops and the CPS put the children through.  Yes, we should worry about kids being abducted, but notice who abducted them.

[Read more…]

What Is Religious Freedom, anyway?

Think-tanker Joseph Backholm cites some of the absurdities and posturing in the controversy over the Indiana Religious Freedom act–such as Apple threatening to stop doing business in Indiana, while still doing business in Saudi Arabia where gays can be executed, and a governor banning state travel to Indiana even though his state has a broader Religious Freedom statute than Indiana’s.

But then he gets to the underlying issue:   People have different understandings of what religious freedom means.  Is it just the freedom to attend worship services?  Does it just apply to internal beliefs but not to actions?  Does it only apply to individuals and not to what those individuals do when they operate a business?  He gets into the history of the issue  and the legal precedents in a way that people on all sides of the issue need to understand.  He also shows how the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has actually been used. [Read more…]