Parliament, natural law and conscience

Opinion: Oskar Wermter SJ

There is hardly an aspect of our life as a nation for which Parliament does not sooner or later frame a law or regulation.

Anything? As a matter of fact, there are limits. The Constitution, fundamental to the country, draws the line.

There is a Bill of Rights which we must observe, including the sacredness of human life, human dignity, and a number of freedoms and basic rights listed in that Bill, with which the positive laws coming from our Parliament must agree. For example, the freedom of speech, of assembly, of religion, of conscience, of political choice and the freedom to demonstrate without having to be afraid of violence, among others.

What does not agree with our conscience, like the inherited moral truth, and the wisdom contained in nature, will not rescue us from cyclones and tsunamis or build our country.

Nations have agreed on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations 1948).

Our continent has an African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which has its special features, such as freedom from discrimination, slavery, torture and the freedom to participate in the governance of one’s country.

The court, where one can utilise this charter as a legal instrument to have these freedoms implemented, is yet to be established.

We have fellow citizens (among them Members of Parliament) who follow rules and laws, not written anywhere, except in their hearts.

They believe with all their hearts that they must protect and preserve life — human as well as animal — and all the other treasures found in nature created by God.

They are very concerned about clean water, because water is life. They worry about climate change because Cyclone Idai has killed many people and destroyed their houses and crops. Or was it another tsunami? We hope and pray that our crops will be plentiful and good this year.

All of us on this earth yearn to live in peace and share the fruits of our labours. We should accept even fish and birds, animals and humans, women and men, the sun, moon and stars as brothers and sisters.

Will we, guided by conscience, stop polluting the air with fumes of burning coal, petrol and diesel cars.Are we, as a people, able to clean the atmosphere and remove poisonous chemicals therein?

Will our representatives in Parliament respond to the voice of their consciences? Will they acknowledge that there is such a voice at all? Will they and all of us honour and respect marriage and the family, and frame legislation for their promotion and protection? Will women find respect, and human trafficking and sexual slavery come to an end?
Will men accept the limits to their power over wives and children? Love is impossible if it is not free.

Will parliamentarians enforce discipline? Will they also be able to freely speek the truth? Will our conscience tell us, and we remind one another, that if animal and plant life is precious, then surely human life, not yet born, must be even more precious and worth preserving?

Democracy seems to have no limits. Anything goes. But democratic choices are not being made in a vacuum. The decisions MPs make are made within the context of the Bill of Rights; there are human rights and freedoms and there is our conscience which say the truth in our hearts.

If we are sincere and honest, then we should hear what our conscience tells us, and there are many voices that drive us to work for the common good, come to the rescue of the poor, as well as to frame new laws in order to give work to the young and unemployed.

What do citizens seek when they fight for a seat in Parliament? There is a simple answer: They want their share of power on the political marketplace. Some are driven by their conscience, some by compassion and others by a sense of responsibility.

There is a doctor who is deeply upset that he cannot take care of his patients and give them the right treatment.

Too many women die because of maternity complications. Infectious diseases cause the death of many young children. There is a lack of clean water and consequently an increase in lethal cholera cases.

Public health is not supported by enough funds. Medical equipment and adequate salaries need to be budgeted for.

But more is spent on the military and armaments. “This must be changed,” the doctor said, adding that he also had elected an MP.

This will be the place where he will conduct his private war against disease and death. He will appeal to his colleagues in politics and friends in commerce and industry that the health budget should be increased.

He is driven by compassion for families who lose their mothers during childbirth, and by children wiped out by childhood diseases.

Other MPs fight for better education, lower taxes, more employment for school leaders, for better roads and railways, and greater security in high-density suburbs.

To have the power of an MP is one thing, to use it as an effective tool in improving the living conditions of voters is another.

We admire nature and clean rivers, wonderful forests with trees which took centuries to make them grow to their majestic heights.

There are countless signs, words and messages that reveal to us the truth of our “Sister Mother Earth” (Canticle of the Sun, St Francis). MPs may well heed the voice of wisdom which they have acquired as citizens of the earth, our common home.

The wisdom of nature exceeds that of the party. There is knowledge, experience and vision in leaders that have been well chosen (of course, not all of them are).

Our leaders can frame useful laws. But without the voice of conscience, of compassion and hearts which know the natural law, our efforts will not “renew the face of the earth”.

Oskar Wermter is a social commentator. He writes in his own personal capacity.

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