The (Holy) Spirit of the Law Andrew Haber

Church and State are separate; Thomas Jefferson argued that this should be the case in a letter he wrote in 1802 where he said there should be “a wall of separation between church and state” (Hutson par. 1). This philosophy has been implemented by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has repeatedly affirmed throughout our nation’s history; the most famous being Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 (Skelton, p. 330 U.S. 16).
However, while they should be separate, our state should not ignore the moral values that the Church may hold. A single belief should not have any control over the decisions of our country, but I believe that you can still agree with moral values that put the world before yourself. In our current political climate, there is little to no regard for the environment or for fellow people. Those in power are choosing to follow the law in a literal sense rather than the contextual meaning and true intent of the law. This manner allows politicians to exploit loopholes in the law so that they can take advantage of our environment for their own personal gain while claiming that nothing they did was illegal. To combat this greed and corruption, I believe it is necessary, as a lawyer, to follow key principles of Catholic Social Teaching; those being Human Dignity, and Community and Participation so that I can become an attorney who is more capable of fighting for change.

Photo by Jannis Warner for New York Law Journal. Hamilton, Colby. “Berman Defends 'Reasonableness' of Community Service Sentence, After 2nd Circuit Remand.” New York Law Journal, 23 Mar. 2018, www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2018/03/23/berman-defends-reasonableness-of-community-service-sentence-after-2nd-circuit-remand/.

Our current legal system is flawed; until recently the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, followed a legal method called “Sue and Settle” when they would pursue legal actions against companies that violated environmental laws. “Sue and Settle” is a method where, “a federal agency agrees to a settlement agreement, in a lawsuit from special interest groups, to create priorities and rules outside of the normal rulemaking process” (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, par. 1). This allowed our government to essentially give companies who broke the law a mild punishment in the form of a small monetary fine in comparison to their profits. The purpose of this practice is to ensure that politicians seeking reelection can continue to accept political donations from the lobbying companies being that these companies will not face public ridicule or deal with the exposure of a public trial (EPA Press Office).
This type of closed-door tactic is why there is no change in our government. If there is no outcry or demand for legislative change brought forth by the people, there is no reason for those in power to want to make changes that would yield them less profit. On this issue, Pope Francis stated in his encyclical Laudato Sí that “where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature…” (Pope Francis, par. 190).
In addition to legislative reform, the politicians in power must sincerely agree with and have a passion for the changes brought forth in this new legislation. If the politicians disagree with these changes, they must be removed from their positions by the people casting their votes against them. Our structure of government was designed so that the people have the ultimate power, and it is the people’s responsibility to act for the sake of change.
Pope Francis agrees with this sentiment stating that, "we should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment, because when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary oppositions or obstacles to be avoided" (Pope Francis, par. 123).
Being that laws have no longer been viewed as guidelines but rather “arbitrary oppositions or obstacles” (Pope Francis, par. 123) culture change must take place. If we continue to see laws as subjective passages that must be avoided, we will see the destruction of society, the ascension of anarchy, and we would descend into absolute chaos. This is why I believe Pope Francis is right when he says, “in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter in a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life” (Pope Francis, par. 189).
However, those at the top of the government are not the only ones at fault for these issues. Lower down on the hierarchy of power, there government departments such as the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This department is responsible for bringing criminal charges against someone if they deem it is the correct action. In this instance, I believe the principles of Catholic Social Teaching could have a direct impact on change. Human Dignity is defined as “something that can’t be taken away… each and every person has value, are worthy of great respect and must be free from slavery, manipulation, and exploitation” (Pope Francis, par. 1); this philosophy is critical to for me to become a great attorney. As a U.S. attorney, Human Dignity is a concept that is involved in every case I will handle. I will be arguing for the value of victims which, for the companies that violate environmental protection laws, can be abundant.
An example of such a case is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which negatively impacted the people of an entire town. The corporations’ sole focus on profit maximization lead them to intentionally ignoring environmental concerns; this lead to the poisoning of an entire community’s water supply. This crisis not only lead to the sickness amongst the members of Flint, but it also harmed the animals residing in that ecosystem.

Photo from CNN's piece on Flint Water Crisis. Ganim, Sara, and Linh Tran. “How Flint, Michigan's Tap Water Became Toxic.” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 Jan. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/index.html.

The heads of our government, many of whom are still in office, chose to simply sue and settle with these companies. This lead to the lack of any changes for the benefit of the common good. While the elites may do this, an attorney that adheres to Catholic Social teaching would argue that the company at fault should be properly punished for their callous disregard for the value of their fellow man. Considering this, an attorney that follows Catholic Social Teaching is a defender of our Human Dignity.
However, the responsibilities of an attorney who seeks to bring about change does not stop there. Another principle of Catholic Social Teaching that an attorney should also follow is the idea of Community and Participation. This principle states that we are not created by God to live alone. Living in community is an essential expression of who we are. But Community does not just happen- it is something that men and women must work together to develop…Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good (Pope Francis, par.1).
Pope Francis is saying that we all have a duty and a responsibility to act in the interest for the common good, and as an attorney, I will faithfully execute my position to work in the interest of the common good. This is so that I will participate in setting a precedent for future cases against those who seek to harmfully exploit the environment for personal gain. By fulfilling my duties in accordance with this philosophy, I will participate benefitting the community that we all live in. While it may seem inconsequential, this obligation we have to actively participate is yet another character defining aspect of an attorney seeking to herald great change.
Although Thomas Jefferson stated that a separation of church and state should exist to remove any possibility of a religious bias that could influence our legislation, our government has taken a radical approach to where we have ignored the beneficial values that come from Catholicism. I believe that the people’s lack of fighting for just causes and succumbing to the despotic practices of corporations looking to profit by any means possible have negative effects for those that they exploit.
As a lawyer who has now had the privilege of becoming acquainted with the Principles of Catholic Social Teaching, as a future attorney I will implement these different principles into my law practice. I will prioritize human dignity to fight on behalf of the people who are being exploited by larger powers who refuse to acknowledge the value of human life. I will recognize the value of community as I am fighting for those that are being exploited.
However, I will place the most emphasis on the second half of Community and Participation; encouraging the clients I represent to understand the power they have, while counseling them in the process of actively seeking justice by calling upon lawmakers to pressuring them so that legislative change can be enacted, and these despotic people in power will recognize the wrongful actions they have committed.


“Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, www.uschamber.com/report/sue-and-settle-regulating-behind-closed-doors.

Hutson, James. “'A Wall of Separation' FBI Helps Restore Jefferson's Obliterated Draft.” Apple Computers: This Month in Business History (Business Reference Services, Library of Congress), Victor, www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danbury.html.

Press Office, Environmental Protection Agency. “Administrator Pruitt Issues Directive to End EPA ‘Sue & Settle.’” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Oct. 2017, www.epa.gov/newsreleases/administrator-pruitt-issues-directive-end-epa-sue-settle.

Skelton, Chris. “Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947).” Justia Law, supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/330/1/case.html.

“Home.” Catholic Social Teaching, www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/.

Pope Francis. “Laudato Si' (24 May 2015) | Francis.” Biography | Francis, w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.

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Andrew Haber


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