*In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University blame has been placed to varying degrees on the principle actors. One of main themes to come out of this blame game is the difference between what people are obligated to do legally versus what human decency and their morals dictate.
Probably the second biggest villain has been assistant football coach Mike McQueary who allegedly witnessed a child being raped. Legally he did exactly what was required by reporting the incident to his superiors. But many people believe he failed morally by not immediately stopping the assault and/or reporting the incident to police immediately.
This lack of an imperative for McQueary to do more than tell the head coach yields questions about whether the law should penalize people who fail to act morally. But such questions are knee jerk reactions to this specific situation and do not apply more generally.
First it must be noted that there is an actual law that McQueary and several others at Penn State violated. That being the statute that requires notifying police when child abuse is suspected. Multiple people have been indicted in part because of this law. McQueary has avoided being charged probably because his testimony is critical to the larger investigation. Nevertheless the point is that there is no need to create a new law to compel people to act should they find themselves in a situation similar to the one that allegedly existed at Penn State – the law already exists.
Furthermore even if a law did not exist that was applicable to specifics of this (or any other situation) to the letter, there are too many different concepts from too many moral codes that would be in play. Generally speaking our legal system is based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Still to have laws for all of the property encroachments possible based on the Biblical Book of Leviticus would make the law that much lengthier and is unnecessary. In fact lawmakers in most states have explicitly resisted basing criminality on the Old Testament – marrying a first cousin is legal in a majority of states.
Making laws because one incident offends the public’s morals is a bad reaction to a bad situation. Mostly because the public’s moral code is not uniform in a pluralistic society like the United States. Furthermore the public’s moral code evolves over time. This is not to suggest that in 50 years we would all look the other way as children are robbed of their innocence by a sexual predator. But it is to say that the legal code of each state is thousands of pages and should be augmented only when absolutely necessary.
It’s not against any law to be a bad guy. But a bad enough guy will run afoul of some law.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org