Breaking the law a sin?
#1
I've heard it claimed that breaking the civil law is a mortal sin. I was wondering how far this extended? Obviously things like fraud and tax evasion are immoral, but what about minor laws such as not wearing a helmet while out cycling or taking a bottle of wine on a picnic? Are doing these things which are forbidden by the law - even though they really have no negative consequences at all - immoral?
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#2
I am sure there are people here more knowledgeable than I, and I have been proven wrong here before. So just know that my response is simply my understanding of things and not dogmatic truth.

My understanding: we must obey civil law so long as it doesn't impede upon Catholic faith. For instance; in the picnic scenario, yes we would be committing a sin by bringing wine if the wine was for drinking. If however Mass was going to be celebrated outdoors at the picnic place and the wine is to be Consecrated than no sin would be committed.

Any other more learned people have any insight?
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#3
There is a theory in moral theology that some civil laws (e.g. speed limits, parking laws) are purely "penal laws".  They do not oblige under pain of sin; the only moral obligation is to take your punishment if caught. Some moral theologians disagree, but this is a probable opinion that may be followed in practice. 

http://maritain.nd.edu/jmc/etext/emt21.htm
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#4
In jurisprudence, there is a distinction between malum prohibitum (something bad simply because it is prohibited) and malum in se (bad in itself).  Thus, even the law recognizes a difference between types of legal violations.

As a lawyer, I have thought about this issue.  For instance, when I drive 56 mph in a 55 mph zone, do I need to bring that to confession?  I don't think so.  How about when I drive 90 mph?  Yes, probably.
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#5
(12-06-2011, 11:50 AM)ImpyTerwilliger Wrote: In jurisprudence, there is a distinction between malum prohibitum (something bad simply because it is prohibited) and malum in se (bad in itself).  Thus, even the law recognizes a difference between types of legal violations.

As a lawyer, I have thought about this issue.  For instance, when I drive 56 mph in a 55 mph zone, do I need to bring that to confession?  I don't think so.  How about when I drive 90 mph?  Yes, probably.

What about 89 mph?  88?  87?  57?  58?  Where is the proverbial line drawn?  ???
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#6
(12-06-2011, 01:10 PM)Beware_the_Ides Wrote: What about 89 mph?  88?  87?  57?  58?  Where is the proverbial line drawn?   ???

Reason and one's conscience, I would think.  I suppose it would require an exercise of the virtue of prudence.  In other words, "Did I drive recklessly?  Did I violate the 5th commandment?"
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#7
(12-06-2011, 01:19 PM)ImpyTerwilliger Wrote:
(12-06-2011, 01:10 PM)Beware_the_Ides Wrote: What about 89 mph?  88?  87?  57?  58?  Where is the proverbial line drawn?   ???

Reason and one's conscience, I would think.  I suppose it would require an exercise of the virtue of prudence.  In other words, "Did I drive recklessly?  Did I violate the 5th commandment?"

I think this is right on. As in other areas of life, a well-informed conscience must discern what is sin. For driving, you can't quantify what is sinful. In some instances, driving 90 in a 55 zone may not be sinful. It depends on if there is any apparent danger in doing so, which is, as you said, a matter of prudence and discernment. People drive safely at such speeds on the autobahn, for example.

God gave us rational minds for a purpose.
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#8
(12-06-2011, 01:27 PM)rbjmartin Wrote:
(12-06-2011, 01:19 PM)ImpyTerwilliger Wrote:
(12-06-2011, 01:10 PM)Beware_the_Ides Wrote: What about 89 mph?  88?  87?  57?  58?  Where is the proverbial line drawn?   ???

Reason and one's conscience, I would think.  I suppose it would require an exercise of the virtue of prudence.  In other words, "Did I drive recklessly?  Did I violate the 5th commandment?"

I think this is right on. As in other areas of life, a well-informed conscience must discern what is sin. For driving, you can't quantify what is sinful. In some instances, driving 90 in a 55 zone may not be sinful. It depends on if there is any apparent danger in doing so, which is, as you said, a matter of prudence and discernment. People drive safely at such speeds on the autobahn, for example.

God gave us rational minds for a purpose.

I hear ya...just thinking out loud a little bit.... 

What about federal taxes that are used to fund abortion vs. making stock profits by investing in a company that produces pornograhy, contraceptives, vaccines from fetal stem cells, etc., etc.  If I took my "five talents" and invested them thusly to obtain another five, would I be a good and faithful servant?
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#9
(12-06-2011, 02:03 PM)Beware_the_Ides Wrote: What about federal taxes that are used to fund abortion vs. making stock profits by investing in a company that produces pornograhy, contraceptives, vaccines from fetal stem cells, etc., etc.  If I took my "five talents" and invested them thusly to obtain another five, would I be a good and faithful servant?

Not sure what the latter scenario has to do with the discussion at hand, but I certainly wouldn't invest in such a company. I think that would qualify as cooperation with evil. I might short their stock if I thought it was profitable.

Regarding federal taxes used to fund abortion, I think you could make a strong case for not paying your taxes if the gov gives you no guarantee that your money is NOT paying for abortion (or immoral wars). Seems like paying would be cooperation with evil.  I also happen to believe the income tax is of dubious legitimacy, but that's another issue.
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#10
I would say that civil laws are for the common good. It is a moral fault to offend against the common good. Jaywalking when no one around is no offense against common good. But jaywalking while many cars are present can, especially if it causes the drivers danger. Also jaywalking for the express purpose of undermining the legal authority would be a minor sin also, since the law is just and reasonable. But we can't take this too far. Even the state cites things as infractions, which are essentially very minor faults. Don't make your priest laugh when you confess you got a ticket for going 75 in a 65 area!
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