Miriam Isaacs from Princethorpe College, Rugby was the winner of the 2017 Catenian National Public Speaking Final held at the Manchester Conference Centre. The speeches have to be four minutes long and the competition is judged on a number of criteria, including the quality of the content and argument as well as oral skills. Below is Miriam’s speech entitled;
The law should not always be obeyed.
How many of you have broken the law? The speed limit for example? We all take such minor infringements for granted but our purpose today is to consider exactly how far the laws of the land should be respected, and how far an individual might be permitted to make a stand.
Often we find there is a conflict between personal belief, just laws and the laws of a country. Even in democratic countries laws will come into conflict with a justified moral code. Two recent laws in France have specifically targeted the Muslim community. In 2004 wearing a headscarf was banned in public schools; this heralded a national decision on ‘l’affaire du foulard’ or ‘the headscarf issue’. As a result Muslim girls have been forced to separate an external expression of their faith in an essential part of their lives, school. However the Government in France does state that there should not be outward expressions of faith in government owned institutions, including state schools. A further law though in 2010 however meant that headscarves have now been banned in all public spaces. Veiled women have been refused entry to university classes, banks, and doctors’ offices. The fact that this has become an issue in France, where the tradition of freedom of speech is very strong highlights the controversial nature of the relationship between laws and freedoms. Is it right to suppress a person's ability to express their faith?
However France is a secular society. You should obey the law of the country that you live in and you have accepted those rules by living there. This is not to say that if you do disagree with the law you cannot change it, in a democratic country your voice will be heard. The law should be changed not defied. The political philosopher John Rawls describes how we have "a natural duty to abide the rules of a just institution". If you are benefiting from the stability of an established country you have the duty to abide by their rules. In theory, laws should ensure a stable society and is in place to prevent anarchy.
However let's take the example of an undemocratic society, the communist regime in China. Liu Xiaobo spoke out through the power of his written work and in 1989 he was imprisoned for the first time. He then spent the rest of his life in a battle of fighting injustice and suffering at the hand of his country’s wrath. During his fourth prison term he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for “"his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". It is not always the case the society you belong to will be just. Then, it may be morally permissible to break the law to right specific injustices. As Aquinas said "an unjust law is not worthy of obedience".
Society functions on the assumption that laws laid down by the authorities will be followed. We have considered examples on both sides of this debate however it is perhaps worth bearing in mind the wise words of Sir Thomas More from Robert Bolt's play 'A Man for All Seasons' when the young William Roper challenges Sir Thomas over his acceptance of the Devil's law, Sir Thomas replies "This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down...do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!" Although we know there will always be instances where breaking law is permissible, as a general precedent, law is implemented to protect and not exploit individuals.
Another speech will be put on this site in a few weeks.