Follow the law? On underage drinking and speeding

Follow the law? On underage drinking and speeding

My 19 year old self is reading the title of this blog post, seeing the association with a youth group and already judging the outcome as narrow-minded, biased and giving me prideful reasons why I should write it off.  Yeah, if I met my 19 year old self, there would be quite a reckoning.

 For me, this question dominated my high school morality class.  Our religion teacher taught us that as Catholic Christians we are called to obey the law.  The reasoning does come straight from scripture.

Romans 13:1 - Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.

On its face, it appears that if we truly believe in God's word, and His Church that is backing that word up, then truly it would be immoral for us to disobey any civil law.  Indeed, the scripture says that if we resist this authority, then we bring God's judgment upon ourselves!  Who wants that in their life!  At the same time, like every other teen who wants to make sure there are no double standards, I started looking around for examples where authority figures don't follow civil laws and call it perfectly moral behavior.  It wasn't long until those eager to justify underage drinking had the perfect example: speeding.  Everyone does it.  No one seems to care much.  If mom and dad speed, AND SOMETIMES GET CAUGHT, then why is it so bad for me to sneak out and drink responsibly in my best friend's basement?

The teacher's response went something like this: "well the purpose of the law is to protect people from harm, and as long as you're not going too fast, then its ok to speed a little bit..."  In my mind, all I heard was, "well the purpose of the underage drinking law is to stop people from hurting others, so as long as I'm doing it safely and not driving and such, then a little bit is OK..."  That was about that. 

Although that was over 10 years ago, at our CCD class this came up and I was rather surprised to hear very similar reasoning when we brought this up in morality class.  There were a considerable number of people who sided with 19 year old me.  

So, how do we reconcile this seeming contradiction of belief and behavior?

It's actually very simple.  It comes in actually reading and understanding what the law says about speeding and underage drinking. Concerning speeding, the law states:

No person shall operate a motor vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar at a speed greater or less than is reasonable or proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the street or highway and any other conditions (4511.21)

That means that our conception that it is illegal to go 66mph in a 65mph marked zone is actually not true.  We are allowed by law to go under or over the marked speed limits at a reasonable level. Going over the posted speed limit does not necessary mean that you're breaking the law. Yes, police can pull us over if they believe that we are going unreasonably fast but we can also argue our case in traffic court.  So, speeding is immoral when we go unreasonably fast and we surely must guard against that.  No one disagrees with that!

In the end, upon further research and understanding, the common objection against following underage drinking laws because of acceptance of speeding, has been thoroughly refuted.  In most states, including Ohio, underage drinking is acceptable when done in religious services and when accompanied by a parent.  If you really want to enjoy alcohol, YOU CAN!  Just do it with your parents and do it in the open. If you want to continue arguing about how its not fair that you could potentially be drafted to fight in war and not drink and push other arguments at me, in the end, the reason most people argue against underage drinking is because they have darker motives.  Jesus said:

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3)

My hope and prayer is that every teen in our parish tempted to illegal consumption of alcohol would know the truth, examine their hearts and pray that God would give them the desire to come to the light.  I pray that no student would knowingly disobey God's command for us to obey the governing authorities and so bring God's judgment upon themselves.  Father, let us raise up young saints that would rather drink deeply of the Spirit and give thanks for all His created goods in the light of your law!

Patrick Reis

Patrick Reis is the Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at St. Patrick's Dominican Parish in Columbus, OH.  

Office: 614-240-5925


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