Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That is a rule of our criminal justice system. Even if you do not know that the over the counter drug that you purchased in state X is illegal in state Y, if you bring it into state Y you are guilty of breaking the law.
Why? Because criminal law supposes that you know the law. You know that what you are doing is wrong. that is why society decides to make these actions criminally punishable to discourage people from engaging in certain behavior and punishing them according to their desert. With some of the newer crimes, this doesn’t quite make sense. How are you supposed to “know” in state Y that having a certain amount of pseudoephedrine is criminal, even though it is not in state X? But the doctrine of no excuse for mistake of law came into play before these types of crimes. When crimes were limited to things like murder, rape, robbery. You know those things are wrong. You just know.
Really? I can’t believe my ears when I hear the professor say this. That the reason we punish some behavior so harshly is because we know that it is wrong. It is amoral. And part of the reason we have law is to codify the moral intuitions we share to bring order to our society.
The more I hear things like this, the more I study the law, the more convinced I am: there has to be such thing as moral absolutes. Truth. Objective Law. I wonder if my professors realize it. I feel like they must. Then again, I wonder how scientists can study the natural world so closely and not see the fingerprints of a loving Creator everywhere they look. But I digress.
Even though they aren’t coming out and saying it, my professors every day pay homage to the fact that there must be some objective moral standard, one that we can’t quite get at perfectly with our laws, but we try, because we realize this is how we must govern our lives. Some great Law, out there, somewhere, that we all some how know, down here. I wonder where they think this Law comes from. It has to come from somewhere. Rather, it has to come from Someone.
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:14-16
Ignorance of God’s law is no excuse. Why? Because we know it. Because He wrote it on our hearts.