Justice as Fairness (continued)
People expect judges and juries to make fair decisions in regard to civil and criminal matters. In such matters, the innocent are due exhonoration.22 The guilty are due punishment fit for their crimes. If the guilty go unpunished, justice has not been served. Injustice also occurs when the innocent are punished. In order for remedial justice to be fair, it must show no respect to one’s wealth, status, or lineage. In other words, justice must be impartial to be fair.
Social Justice and the Courts
Should the poor and oppressed be given favor in legal proceedings that social justice may occur? In many courts, convicted criminals who are found to be indigent23 do not have to pay fines, and sometimes do not have to serve jail time. Other convicted criminals, who are found to have a bad background (society is to blame), do not have to serve their sentences. Such treatment of criminals is fair in the eyes of those who espouse social justice. Social justice allows certain favorable rich people to buy favorable decisions. Beneficial verdicts are also afforded to the poor in the name of social justice. Yet, as has already been declared, remedial justice is impartial, not respecting the wealth or background of any of the parties involved in the dispute or crime. The rich should not be able to buy a judge or jury’s verdict. Neither should the poor be able to use poverty or a bad background to sway a verdict. Each, irrespective of wealth or background, is responsible for his or her actions according to remedial justice. As in the case of commercial justice, one must interpret relevant passages of the Bible in context. Verses that seem to give judicial favor to the poor and oppressed actually argue for impartial justice.
Impartiality is the focus of scriptures dealing with the poor and the oppressed in a legal setting. Consider Exod 23:6-7, which states, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” If one were to focus on the beginning of the verse, one may come to a social justice understanding of the text; yet, the rest of the passage adds the context of truth. Wealth, bribery, falsified witness, and discrimination is excluded from judicial decisions. A person’s wealth or poverty have nothing to bear upon guilt or innocence.
Deut 24:17-18 reads, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” This passage does not argue for special treatment, but for the same treatment. Foreigners and the fatherless deserve the same justice as any Israelite. Israel itself had the status of foreigner and slave in Egypt before God redeemed His people; therefore, the Israelites were to give the justice, which they were denied in Egypt, to foreigners, orphans, and widows in their land. In other words, give justice just as you would prefer justice be given to you. The passage is not just an arguement for impartial justice, but also for kindness, which is often confused with justice. We will address the issue of justice and love in an upcoming ROAR.
Psalm 82:3 reads as follows.
How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
In order to support social justice, one must emphasize the last two lines of the verse, ignoring the first. The first line argues for impartiality in judgment. Partiality is that which is deemed unjust. The weak, the fatherless, the afflicted, and the destitute deserve the same impartial justice as anyone else.
For those who are still unconvinced about the Bible’s support of impartial justice, consider passages dealing with courtroom justice without respect of the socio-economic backgrounds of the respective parties.
You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice. -Exod 23:2
You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. -Deut 16:18-20
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. -Prov 17:15
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
or to deprive the righteous of justice. -Prov 18:5
A worthless witness mocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity. -Prov 19:28
Rightousness and unrighteousness without regard to wealth or poverty determines guilt or innocence in true and impartial justice. To be partial is to pervert justice. If one is guilty, then let the guilty be punished. If innocent, let the innocent go free. This area of particular justice is easy to understand. In the next ROAR, we will tackle the very tricky and hard to understand subject of distributive justice.