For the most part, I do not believe that we are obligated to follow the law all the time. To be clear, I do not think we should take it upon ourselves to run amok, ignoring traffic lights and following whichever laws suit our whims at the moment. After all, laws allow us to coexist in large societies by maintaining the optimum amount of freedom for each individual while protecting each person’s respective rights. Laws against murdering, stealing, and other morally reprehensible actions should, in my opinion, be obeyed in all but the most extenuating circumstances because they cause direct and lasting harm to another party. However, other laws such as drinking laws and customs laws allow more leeway as far as obligatory obedience goes. I believe that these types of laws should be viewed in a more negotiable light, because many people are capable of using their discretion to determine what is and what is not appropriate under the law.
For instance, I know plenty of twenty year olds who know how to drink responsibly. The people I have in mind consume alcohol, but in a very cautious manner, including taking precautions to keep themselves and others out of harm’s way. They call cabs so that they do not have to drink and drive, alternate non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic ones to ensure they are at a healthy blood-alcohol level, and only consume alcohol occasionally as opposed to binge-drinking. I would argue that these underage drinkers would be much safer and more pleasant to encounter than a person who recently turned twenty one and decides to have a night out on the town and consume copious amounts of alcohol just to commemorate such a special day. It seems to me that a responsible adult who has not yet turned the appointed age of twenty one would not be morally obligated to obey such a general law that was probably developed to place limits on the actions of a large population comprised of different beliefs and backgrounds, rather than the arguable exceptions of responsible parties. This concept is reflected in the fact that in Texas, a minor may consume alcohol as long as they are in the presence of their parent(s) or guardian. Clearly, this demonstrates the spirit of the law being one more of who will claim responsibility than anything else.
Another example is that of obeying customs laws. While I have addressed this topic in other work, I want to bring it up again here because I think it illustrates a good point about obligatory obedience of the law. For example, I was traveling around Argentina the summer after my senior year in high school on a choir trip, when we stopped in a small indigenous village. While we were there, we bought different trinkets from native artisans. Among other small items like jewelry, I bought a small bow and arrow set (the decorative type that could not possibly function as a weapon) that was about eight inches long. I had not thought at the time that bringing it back into the United States would pose a problem. For all intensive purposes, it was serving the same practical function as a necklace or earring. I would not be wielding it or using it to threaten anyone. I wondered why I even “had” to declare my item. I never, to my knowledge, signed any form or gave any verbal agreement that I would do so. What harm was I doing myself, our country, or anyone else by bringing a toy bow and arrow set into the country where it would sit in my room as a precious reminder of an amazing experience? Furthermore, this was not a case of bringing a dangerous food or invasive species of plant into the country. It actually would not hurt anything.
In cases like these, I think that it should be left up to the discretion of responsible, informed, and well-meaning citizens to decide whether or not they decide to follow the law if it will not be to the detriment of anyone else.