This summer’s Dodd-Frank financial reform bill weighed in at more than 2,300 pages. But even that wasn’t sufficient to spell out all the regulatory changes, as the bill requires 243 formal rule-makings by 11 federal agencies in coming months.
Regardless of your feelings about these new laws, surely we can all agree that the US government’s laws have become too convoluted, confounding, and confusing. These words appropriately begin with “con,” which is also how Congress’s endless stream of concurrent resolutions are abbreviated. Even the word Congress begins with “Con.” But those ironies do not give our representatives the right to con the American people.
There ought to be a law that any new law must address a single issue and be simple, direct, and understandable by the average citizen.
Three faiths, one-liners
Government can learn a lot about good or proper lawmaking from religion. Take the three Abrahamic faiths. The laws laid down in scriptures for Jews, Christians, and Muslims are frank and direct; many are one-liners.
To be clear, this is not intended to promote a theocracy or any one religion. But surely government at all levels – local, state, and national – can learn from these faiths the importance of simplicity and clarity.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the Ten Commandments in the Torah. In just a few bullet points, Moses recorded God’s comprehensive moral guide for the Jewish people.“You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God...” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not murder.”
Can anything be more comprehensible? Such clarity about what Jews could do – and not do – not only aided the cause of spiritual fidelity; it promoted good citizenship. Later, in the book of Leviticus, Moses further delineated these laws and added ceremonial regulations, which were also communicated in direct, easy-to-follow terms. You don’t need a formal education to know what is required.
Likewise, the New Testament is replete with laws and directions for Christians.
Jesus Christ said: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Apostle Paul said, “Do not be yoked with unbelievers.”
The Apostle James wrote, “Brothers, do not slander one another.”
The Apostle Peter wrote, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”
What’s not to understand in these directions?
Similarly, the Koran clearly states what is expected of Muslims. Take for instance the following: “And verily, God is my Lord and your Lord; adore Him then. This is the right way.” And “Observe ye the times of prayer, and fear ye God.” And also: “Oh Believers! Surely wine and games of chance, and statues, and the divining arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s work! Avoid them, that ye may prosper.”
Again, who can miss what is stated and required of those believers?
These scriptural commands are notable for what they’re missing: pork-barrel spending. Two of the above religions prohibit literal pork and their followers must shudder at the use of the term and what it stands for in our federal legislation. Yet too many of our laws contain this offensive component that set aside special funds for a few special interests.
Many of the laws enacted by government are incongruent and unintelligible largely because they are too long. Imagine how much better Congress could serve the American people if it abided by a rule that required legislation to be simple, direct, and free of pork-barrel spending, with no unrelated amendments. Unrelated amendments are perhaps where some of the most serious legislative conning or scamming take place.
Law isn’t just for lawyers. Law is for all of us. When it calls us to obey, we should at least be able to understand.
Helen Louise Herndon is a freelance writer.