Five years ago, I offered 10 timely lessons from A Man for All Seasons (1966), and I’m sure many of us recently observed a high-profile example of what happens when #1 on that list is violated. We’ll get to that shortly.
We Can’t Bypass Just Laws to Achieve Justice
At a key moment in the film, Sir Thomas More refuses to feed the ambitions of a treacherous young man named Richard Rich, even though he knows that doing so will earn him a powerful enemy and may even cost him his life. Despite his knowledge of the danger, this is how he reacts when his family demands he arrest Rich.
Here are the words of warning I added to More’s wisdom:
“Basic tenets of liberty, such as the presumption of innocence for anyone accused of breaking a law, are important not because they let guilty people go free but because they protect the innocent. People who are shouting to get rid of due process for men accused of crimes are clamoring for their own destruction. If they say that one man has no right to defend himself against an accusation, they open the same door upon themselves to be convicted and punished purely based on an accusation and not on any facts. One who defends the rights of someone accused of a heinous crime like rape is not a ‘rape apologist,’ but a believer in equal treatment for all under the law.
“If you put all the power into the hands of accusers and force all defendants to prove their innocence, you destroy the good faith that society must be built upon. For their own safety, the people who desire to do away with due process for the accused must reconsider their naïve assumptions about justice and realize that it could be their own heads on the chopping block next.”
A Practical Example
We can clearly see that More was right not to bypass the just laws of his country. Doing so allows for injustice when the same thing happens to us, and it allows for hypocrisy when we call upon those same laws to protect ourselves. I really don’t want to get political or say who is being dishonest in this instance because I don’t know who is right or wrong, but I will say that a man seeking to be the next U.S. president should not be too hasty to pronounce someone guilty for a crime he was never convicted of if he doesn’t want that same standard applied to him. You can see what I’m talking about in this video by a lawyer. Listen to this question and answer. The rest of the video is great, and I recommend watching it all, but this is the most pertinent point to this discussion.
Lessons to Learn
If we demand that all accusers be believed, we leave ourselves open to being automatically condemned for crimes we didn’t commit. If we silence people we disagree with, we all but ensure that we will be silenced by others who disagree with us. I agree with More that, for our own safety, we should never be willing to throw out just laws even if they prevent us from doing what we believe is right in the moment or earning a temporary victory over who we may see as our enemies. Anyone would be able to turn our actions back on us and do the exact same thing once we’ve set that precedent.
We would be wise to follow the example of One much greater than Sir Thomas More and do unto others as we would have others do to us. Now that’s a recipe for success.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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You are so right 🙂
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