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Conservative Christians are often accused, justifiably, of trying to impose their moral views on the rest of the population: of trying to equate God's law with man's law. In this essay, we try to answer the question whether that equation is consistent with Christianity. It isn't. Christian doctrines of creation and the fall imply the basic protections associated with the rule of law. But the moral law as defined in the Sermon on the Mount is flatly inconsistent with those protections. The most plausible inference to draw from those two conclusions is that the moral law - God's law - is meant to play a different role than the law of code books and case reports. Good morals inspire and teach; good law governs. When the roles are confused, law ceases to rule and discretion rules in its place. That is a lesson that many of our fellow religious believers would do well to learn: Christians on the right and on the left are too quick to seek to use law to advance their particular moral visions, without taking proper account of the limits of law's capacity to shape the culture it governs. But the lesson is not only for religious believers. America's legal system purports to honor the rule of law, but in practice it is honored mostly in the breach. One reason why is the gap between law's capacity and the ambitions lawmakers and legal theorists have for it. Properly defining the bounds of law's empire is the key to ensuring that law, not discretion, rules.


Conservative Christians, Christianity, Morals, Rule of Law, God's Law, Man's Law, Discretion

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University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law

Publication Citation

8 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 809 (2005).