This was inspired by the combination of two events today: (1) the unjust actions of our State legislature; and (2) my 8th grade daughter asking, as part of her preparation to receive her Confirmation in a few weeks, “Why is Justice important?” Here’s my answer:
Justice is important because it serves as the foundation for civil and social fairness in human society.
The Church teaches that every person has a right to life and to the necessities of life. When our nation was founded, this core principle was written into the Declaration of Independence with the famous words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness.”
In this way, “Justice” is the bedrock principle of our faith and our country.
With our faith, Jesus calls on us to act with justice and fairness in every interaction we have with others. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus said, “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” In Luke 6:29, Jesus said, “To anyone who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well.” And, in Luke 9:48, Jesus said, “The least among you all is the one who is the greatest.” The lesson is that, to lead a just life, you must always give others every benefit of the doubt, and you must love others the way you would like to be loved.
Our country is built on the same principles. For example, in the Fifth and Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, people who are accused of crimes — often, these are the least among us — are entitled to a fair trial where they are presumed innocent, are entitled to an effective legal defense, are entitled to a jury of their peers, are entitled to see and hear all of the evidence against them, and are protected from being tried more than once for the same charges. In the First Amendment, our rights to express ourselves freely are protected, as well as our right to religious freedom. In the Fourth Amendment, everyone (including people who are not citizens) is protected from arrest without probable cause.
Justice is more than a lofty goal. Justice is a work-in-progress. We know that the Bible teaches that we are imperfect creatures. We are called to make a daily effort at the hard work of living the Gospel truly and authentically. Our civil society is also a work-in-progress. When our Constitution was enacted in 1789, women could not vote and slaves were considered property to be owned and sold. Our country is still working today to overcome these and other historic injustices. Just as we must work every day to personally lead a more just life, as citizens we need to know that our work as a society is not done either.