The law is the law, and because it’s the law, you should obey it.


Not so, says Abner Greene, the Leonard F. Manning Professor of Law at the Fordham School of Law. Greene will use his faculty fellowship to finish, “Against Obligation: A Theory of Permeable Sovereignty,” which will argue that:

• Citizens don’t have a moral duty to obey the law.

• The state should, therefore, treat sovereignty as permeable rather than plenary.

• This extends to include all sources of value, even interpretive obligation either backward via precedent or upward to a Supreme Court.

“You wake up; you go through your day; and you make decisions as you go,” Greene said. “You might think a little about the law if you’re driving and you think about speeding, or when you’re paying taxes, but more often you think about how you were brought up, your religion, your family values or your colleagues.”

This isn’t to say that people should be given free license to steal and murder, he said. It merely means other forces are in play when it comes to human behavior.

Greene has written extensively on the role of two provisions of the United States Constitution dealing with religious freedom, and so the second half of the book deals with how to apply this concept to the courts.

“Government should pay attention to sources of value, such as religious, philosophical, tradition or family, which are how people develop value, and what you think makes for right and wrong, apart from the law,” he said.

“The government should be more open to providing exemptions and accommodations for people to live according to their own sources of value.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.