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What is a law? For Kids and Teachers Illustration

What is a law?

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For Kids

Laws are a set of rules. Games have rules. Your parents may give you rules you have to follow. But some rules are so important that are made into laws. Laws made by a government are rules that everyone affected by those laws must follow. You've probably heard the expression "It's the law!" In government, most laws are created to protect people and property. Those laws have a great deal to do with our daily life. You've probably seen a stop sign posted by the side of road, or a sign that swings open on the side of school bus that says STOP. These are pictures of laws that must be obeyed.

In ancient times, rulers made the laws, but most of them did not write laws down, not even with pictures. It was a problem. People were confused about what they could and could not do. But a couple of rulers became famous because they did write down their laws. Two of the most famous ancient rulers who wrote laws down were Hammurabi, a king of ancient Babylon, and Justinian, an ancient Roman emperor.

In ancient times, in most places, if people thought a law they had to obey was unfair, there wasn't much they could do about it except rise up and defeat their ruler. But even if they were successful, there was no guarantee that a new ruler would create better laws. Today, in most places in the world, people have a voice in making laws. In the United States, we elect people to make our laws. But the people we elect cannot make just any law they feel like making. They are limited by state and federal constitutions, which spell out what they can and cannot do. Once they check to make sure the new law they want to be enacted is "constitutional", they then have to present a "bill" to the rest of the lawmakers. A bill is the new law they would like to see passed and enforced, and give reasons why it's a good new law.

A person who lives in the United States has to obey at three sets of laws - local laws, which are sometimes called ordinances; state laws; and federal laws. Even though we have a voice in making our own laws, not everyone agrees that a particular law is a good one. Some laws become out of date. Others were never very good laws to begin with. Fortunately, there are peaceful way to change laws. But until a law is changed, everyone affect by that law has to obey it, whether they agree with it or not. If anyone breaks a law, they will find themselves in a great deal of trouble. They might be arrested or sued! It's important to know the laws that affect you.

Hammurabi

Justinian's Code

How a bill becomes a law

The Constitution of the United States

Amendments

Bill of Rights

Legislative Branch

What laws can Congress make? Congress for Kids

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