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Socrates’ “A Bad Law Is Still a Law,” Is Not in the Spirit of the Law

Socrates’ “A Bad Law Is Still a Law,” Is Not in the Spirit of the Law

Posted November. 07, 2004 23:27,   


“It is unacceptable to describe Socrates’ anecdote, in which he drank poison after saying, ‘A bad law is still a law,’ as example that stresses the law-abiding spirit.”

This is a request made yesterday by the Constitutional Court to the Ministry of Education and Human resources Development to correct a textbook that uses the ancient philosopher’s quote, among other corrections.

The Constitutional Court has drawn public attention by dismissing a presidential impeachment and rebutting capital relocation as unconstitutional. Now, the Court has requested Education Ministry to correct a textbook on society included in the curriculum of elementary, middle, and high schools, citing a number of errors and inaccuracies in textbooks related to constitutional justice.

The Court organized a taskforce of Constitution researchers last November. This team examined 30 textbooks on society of all levels of schools in 15 categories for over a year.

According to the Constitutional Court, these textbooks frequently make omissions and false descriptions regarding the Constitution, basic rights, constitutional justice, and so on. Particularly in high school textbooks, there is no section for the explanation of the function of constitutional justice. The Constitutional Court gave the following example to explain its request for corrections.

In a textbook on society for six graders of elementary school, “freedom of vocational choice” that emphasizes no limitation on individual’s choice on jobs is falsely categorized as “freedom of labor.”

In addition, in grouping the types of courts, the textbook wrongly associates the Constitutional Court with specialized courts such as the court of family affairs.

The textbook says, “The Supreme Court, a high court of justice, and a district court are the highest courts in Korea. In addition to it, we have special courts, such the court of family affairs that deals with family issues, and the Constitutional Court that judges whether or not laws and social systems are constitutional.”

The Court asked that this part of the text be corrected to read, “Under the Supreme Court, there is a high court of justice, a district court, and the court of family affairs that deals with family issues. Separate from these ordinary courts, we have the Constitutional Court that judges whether the government infringes nations’ basic rights, which are guaranteed in the Constitution, and whether or not a law violates the Constitution.”

One of textbooks on society for middle school students describes Socrates’ anecdote in which he drank poison after saying, “A bad law is still a law,” as an example that emphasize the essence of law-abiding spirit.

In regard of this, the court said, “Under a contemporary constitutional system, ‘just law’ and ‘just enforcement of the law’ are preconditions to “law-abiding.” Therefore, it is not proper to link this anecdote to the spirit of law-abiding.”

In addition, the Court said, “Previous authoritarian regimes treated a constitution as one of other ordinary laws, and undervalued nations’ basic rights as things people have to give up for community. Because of this, the regimes abused education as a means of justifying their legitimacies that result in such false explanations of the law-abiding spirit.”

The Court also indicated that one textbook, which contains a section called “Unexceptional law enforcement of strong constitutional country, Singapore,” is not an acceptable example.

Under the story of this case, an American college student was sentenced to be flogged with a cane for his criminal acts in Singapore. Despite American president’s request for a pardon, the Singapore government enforced the law as scheduled. The Constitutional Court said, “It is not an appropriate example because crucial sentences such as flogging a criminal by a club is contradictory to today’s emphasis on human dignity.”

In a textbook on “law and society” for high school students, there is no explanation of the Constitutional Court, its composition and authority, and the types and procedures of constitutional justice. Specifically, there is no mention about judgments on impeachment cases, judgments on public organization’s conflicts over their authorities, and judgments on party dissolution.

The Constitutional Court suggested, “The justices of the Constitutional Court have become more activist, and the Constitution has settled its position as a norm for laws that guard the nations’ basic rights. Therefore, it is desirable to include an introduction about the Constitutional Court into a textbook on ‘law and society’ so that students understand the system of constitutional justice in a proper way.”