Civil Liberty, Christian Liberty, Advocacy, and Faith: Comments from an Attorney
The accused, disadvantaged, under-financed, and most at-risk people pose the greatest demand for adherence to the Rule of Law. Our laws of society serve a simple role in the final analysis: to try to keep humans from killing one another in the streets.
Regardless of its form, the law endeavors to prevent, reduce, or resolve conflicts. This aim takes several shapes including laws that prohibit criminal actions, prescribe civil remedies, assist the needy and sick, and tax laws to finance governance, services, and policing.
The law’s purposes inform my work as one who studies, uses, argues, and strives to change laws each day. Much of our law is the product of selfishness, narrowness, thoughtlessness and laziness. At the same time people know, innately, that they need laws. They also naturally tend to rebel when that need is personally inconvenient. Given both of these conditions, misunderstanding abounds about the law.
But the gentle challenges of legal advocacy can move people from our inward selfish views to outward other-centeredness. Sometimes those gentle challenges must confront an entire society. To the observer in the moment of a legal and social challenge, the dispute may seem fierce. But in the context of history and alternatives to the Rule of Law, we recognize the gentleness of the law.
Whether legal advocacy tugs gently at a single judicial issue, or pulls at the inertia of a larger society, advocacy is about the mores and folkways of organized society—of civilization. Advocacy gives life to the law, and without its constant challenges the law quickly stagnates and fails from neglect.
The need for advocacy is not intuitive. Its impact is not predictable and is often not successful in a particular event or case. The advocate needs faith; without faith the work quickly overwhelms the practitioner and burns out the spirit within.
Faith’s spark ignites fire in the advocate. It gives birth to a change agent! When this occurs, the law as a process dawns in another life. The process is endless. The social contract of human life in communities, doing things with and for one another, requires teaching and practice. It is challenged by excesses: they range from excess criminality to excess religiosity. (Consider this morning’s news stories for examples of both.)
The human being is not governed by the species-specific behavior of other creatures. We don’t operate with such automatic biological controls, and our responses to the “deadly sins” such as lust, envy, and rage too often lead to death. Still, there is redemption from these traits. Only the human creature seems capable of faith, hope, and a sense of justice. And only the human animal so thoroughly vilifies each of these when overcome by one of our many forms of selfishness.
Liberty for human flourishing in the civil realm exists when spiritually redemptive human traits out-perform the negative features of humankind. Prominent tools help achieve this: religion, education, and an interactive, representative government. These tools employ the law to do so. Religion offers legal constructs. (Consider God’s Sinai covenant with Israel.) Education advances the constructs. (Consider the priests and the prophets.) Representative government makes choices which wax and wane around opposing perspectives. (Consider Moses and Israel’s representatives, Exodus 18:13-27.) And often, the choice is about how to reach a common goal, not what the goal should be.
Our social life of liberty consists of freedom to engage in decisions about the wrinkles and creases of the social contract. It sustains space for debate and decisions through its success at limiting conflict among people. More conflict: less time for good decisions. Poor decisions: more conflict. Thus, the human practice of law is a search for my own soul as an expression of my own dignity measured by my devotion to the cause of basic human rights.
Natural Law, positive law, religious creeds, and philosophies of government always, in the end, fail without commitment to a simple idea: reciprocity, that is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (the golden rule, Matthew 7:12). Achieving reciprocity as fully as possible is the core of civil liberty. Reciprocity liberates; absence of it enslaves. Every religion and civilization knows this and must constantly advocate for reciprocity and guard against extremists who claim to have possession of “the only answer.”
The legal advocate must have abiding faith that persistent remonstrance for reciprocity makes a difference in this world—in one life, and in many more. I have observed this much, and continue to watch for more.
David A. Domina
Domina Law Group pc llo
Mr. Domina’s law practice is exclusively trial and appellate work and has included trial of the two impeachments in Nebraska history and representation of Nebraska landowners in their pivotal role to halt the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline.