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Nothing binding or obligatory can be found in those decrees as such, Spooner said. In other words, the obligations of natural law — essentially not to trespass on the person and property of others — preexist and are not the result of anything that legislators say.
And if perchance Congress should pass a law that coincides with the natural law?
If they command men to do justice, they add nothing to men’s obligation to do it, or to any man’s right to enforce it. They are therefore mere idle wind, such as would be commands to consider the day as day, and the night as night.
Statutes forbidding murder, rape, torture, and theft, then, are redundant, adding nothing to our natural obligations as human beings. But legislation consistent with justice is the exception, not the rule. What, then, is the status of “laws” that contravene the natural law? Spooner answered,
If they command or license any man to do injustice, they are criminal on their face. If they command any man to do anything which justice does not require him to do, they are simple, naked usurpations and tyrannies. If they forbid any man to do anything, which justice could permit him to do, they are criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty. In whatever light, therefore, they are viewed, they are utterly destitute of everything like authority or obligation. They are all necessarily either the impudent, fraudulent, and criminal usurpations of tyrants, robbers, and murderers, or the senseless work of ignorant or thoughtless men, who do not know, or certainly do not realize, what they are doing.…
It is intrinsically just as false, absurd, ludicrous, and ridiculous to say that lawmakers, so-called, can invent and make any laws, of their own, authoritatively fixing, or declaring, the rights of individuals, or that shall be in any manner authoritative or obligatory upon individuals, or that individuals may rightfully be compelled to obey, as it would be to say that they can invent and make such mathematics, chemistry, physiology, or other sciences, as they see fit, and rightfully compel individuals to conform all their actions to them, instead of conforming them to the mathematics, chemistry, physiology, or other sciences of nature.
The “laws” that prohibit Edward Snowden (or anyone else) from telling us that the NSA routinely collects our telephone data and has access to our Internet records are decrees of the kind that “forbid any man to do anything, which justice could permit him to do.” They are therefore “criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty.”
Snowden should be left free, and those responsible for the spy programs should face justice.
This column originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.