Ethics are a good thing, until they diminish the law

scales of justice

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A civilized nation relies upon the rule of law. Lately, though, our nation seems more fascinated with the nuances of ethics than with a code of law. Maybe we’re becoming less civilized.

Ethics are abstract guidelines of acceptable behavior that require only a credible (believable) standard of proof in order to condemn, with no legal binding. On the other hand, laws are written rules that require a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and if found guilty is punishable with fines and/or imprisonment.

It seems pretty clear where we should be focusing our attention, and yet the news is filled with stories about scandalous ethics violations instead of real criminal charges. It becomes difficult to remember that an ethics accusation does not carry the same weight as a criminal conviction.

Or, it shouldn’t.

Television journalists, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, were immediately fired after allegations of sexual harassment.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is welcoming a congressional ethics investigation after a photo surfaced of him during his comedian career days with his hands on the breasts of a sleeping and unsuspecting woman.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from the Judiciary Committee after multiple staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

And the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, is accused of sexual misconduct with several individuals including a 14-year-old child several decades ago. The election is just weeks away, and he is under heavy pressure from members of both political parties to exit the race.

None of the allegations have resulted in charges of criminal activity.

If a law is broken, the breaker should be prosecuted and those who have been victimized should receive justice. Let the alleged offenders have their day in court to determine guilt or innocence, and let the alleged victims seek restoration through prosecution and the hopes that the abuse will not happen to others. And it needs to be done long before any statutes of limitations run out.

Lauer and Rose were fired by their employers. Voters will eventually determine the fates of Franken, Conyers and Moore.

For the most part, employers can fire at will and voters can fire on Election Day. That certainly includes firing individuals who at least appear to be unethical or criminal.

It just seems that the right thing to do would be to determine guilt first—before punishment.

But that’s not where this civilized nation is trending.

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