Legal but not Moral

” It’s not a moral issue at all- it’s an issue of legality,”  wrote a commenter on an earlier post. This person wrote further attempting to argue his point.  It is an interesting comment but one that holds very little water.  If obeying the laws of the land were the only determinant of what is moral and just, then this writer has some merit in his argument.  However, there are many laws that have been passed by the US government in its 235 year history that have been legal and immoral.

And there are many examples in other governments where what is legal has not been what is moral.  But let’s just look at American history at the legal laws have been passed that have been immoral.  The laws that were passed that removed the indigenous people from their homelands were immoral.  The laws that enslaved a people were immoral, including the laws that required slaves to show their papers, giving them the right to be away from the plantation, to any white person they met on the road. (Does this sound familiar?)  The laws that banned the vote from non-landholders, women, and blacks.  The laws that sent the CIA, our soldiers, and trained militants from the School of the Americas  (SOA) into combat to destabilize governments in Central and South America (Nicaragua, Columbia, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina as examples). And laws that then will not grant amnesty to the refugees of these countries because we are allies with the SOA trained dictators.  Laws that banned  interracial  marriage and same gender marriage.  Laws that banned races and genders of people from access to education and employment opportunities. All very legal, but not very moral.

Morality has to do with how we are with one another.  Morality is expressed in how we treat other people.  So when actions are coercive against another, that is considered to be immoral.  The laws that demean another being; whether female, or of another race, or ethnicity, or nationality are also considered to be immoral. Jim Crow laws of the 20th century while very legal were not moral because they went against the very fabric of all of our religions’ tenets that teach us to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

It is therefore deemed as immoral those actions that are done against another that are not of the person’s fault.  Therefore the laws that deport children who were brought here as young children is seen as immoral because to deport them means removing them from the only culture and, in some cases, the only language that they know. The laws targeting children by checking their citizenship status before attending school  and placing families at risk in defiance of Federal law of education regardless of status are immoral.  Deporting young people into Mexico who only speak English and know nothing of that country other than it is the country of their parents is immoral.  Actions that attack the family unit are seen as immoral.  When mothers and/or fathers are deported and children are made wards of the state, this as in immoral act against the family.

The Federal law regarding immigration is an immoral  law. One such federal law, The Secure Communities Act that instead of targeting violent criminals who are here without documentation is targeting the undocumented that if they were able to enter the country legally would make the ideal citizen. But our federal process is racist, convoluted, arduous, decades long to complete, and outrageously expensive. The process itself is immoral and unjust.

The states passing their own versions of attrition through enforcement laws are also immoral laws.   Landlords become accomplices to ICE  by having to check residency papers before being able to rent to people of their choice.  States are targeting churches and domestic violence shelters who transport people to their services, which under these laws are being charged with felonies for human trafficking and harboring undocumented.  These laws are immoral because they limit civil and religious liberties.

Employers are being mandated to use E-Verify, an employment data base that only is able to screen 46% of the workplace with any sort of accuracy. This system does nothing to intercept those engaged in identity theft. Citizens are being told they are not legal in the US to work and are losing their employment. And while a first denial has a limited time window to check for errors, employers are simply denying employment rather than do the legwork to verify the information as correct.  Employees are not being told why they are being let go.  The process is seriously flawed and creates an unjust system that harms peoples ability to support themselves.

The federal and state laws addressing immigration have to be reformed.  There needs to be a humane process for acquiring citizenship in this country.  It can be done and it can be done in a manner that is morally and ethically sound.

Yes, it may be very legal to pass such laws.  But at some point, one has to make a decision as to which law one will obey.  The laws of the land or the laws of conscience that guide our behaviors in how we treat our human family.  I will obey the laws of conscience.  My faith demands that of me.  What does your faith demand of you?


  1. The underlying immorality of these laws is deep–they were conceived out of the public eye in a hotel room, facilitated by an agent of the prison industry in collusion with extremist legislators and gestated in an atmosphere of fear created by falsehoods and bigotry. Where is the morality in this deliberate criminalization to keep detention centers filled?

    I do not know if these exact claims are true. What is true is that the private prison industry has lobbied fiercely for these laws in Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere as they will make this industry rich off of the taxpayers dime to detain immigrants while waiting for deportation. Developing an industry by criminalizing a population is immoral.

  2. Wow! You, Fred, and Helen have really nailed it!

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