Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Legislating Morality

I am always amused/annoyed whenever I hear the phrase "You can't legislate morality." That statement is one of the biggest lies around for one reason:

Laws define what is right and wrong for a society.

When a law is made, so is a moral judgment. Murder is wrong. Theft is wrong. Fraud is wrong. Driving while intoxicated is wrong...etc. Society has determined these are not right and has passed laws that proclaim this and also how the society will deal with those who break these laws. Even my town's proclamations about no dogs in the park is a judgment about whether or not dogs' activities in the park mesh with other people's activities in the park (more probably, its a moral judgment saying "people have been jerks with their dogs in the park).

Also, take a look at our Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. It declares that certain freedoms are good. The right to free speech, for worship, to assemble, to bear arms, to not be forced to incriminate oneself -- these are protected under the highest laws of our land because our forefathers agreed these were GOOD (a moral judgment). Our laws even proclaim these rights are above the rights of the government.

When I was a teenager, there was a huge push for tougher drunk driving laws. Whether or not these laws reflected society's increasing concern regarding the dangers of drunk driving, or whether the tougher laws inspired the feelings of the people, it is difficult to tell. Probably both. We are seeing the same process with the "Don't Text and Drive" campaigns now. (God help us that we even need this!)

More people were against abortion when a woman's right to have one was proclaimed by the Supreme Court than years later. Because it is legal, it has become more accepted. Even people who state that they believe its murder often maintain that a woman has a right to do it -- which in and of itself is a contradiction. Under certain circumstances, one person may have the right to take the life of another human being, but murder is when someone takes the life of another person with malice and without having the right to do so.

Morality is legislated all the time. In fact, Aristotle (I believe) stated that the application of morality to an individual is called "Ethics." The application of morality for the good of society is called "Politics." I paraphrase, because I can't find the quote.

You cannot separate law and morality. They are intertwined. And you CAN legislate morality. Except for some administrative laws, legislating is when a governing body making a moral judgment. Really, you can't NOT legislate morality, if you are legislating at all.


Untamed Shrew said...

Hear, hear! (Here, here!)

It's amazing what people can rationalize when they choose to ignore the facts staring them in the face. I'm dumbfounded at those who can't see the connection between slavery and abortion. Everything under the sky falls under one of two cateogories: person or property.

Likewise the E?CA and ordination of unrepentant homosexuals. People only listen to what their itching ears want to hear.

Cindy said...

I see what you are saying, but I always thought that that "you can't legislate morality" meant that you can't make someone moral by creating a law. Just because you have a law, doesn't mean that everyone will obey it.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


I can see that...and the way you say it, it is right.

But when I chiefly hear the argument is when legislation is proposed that is moral in nature...and then it is stated that this bill is not good because you cannot legislate morality...as in, you don't have a right to tell people what to do.

Gunfighter said...

"You cannot separate law and morality. They are intertwined. And you CAN legislate morality"

Agreed... but you have to be very careful doing it.

Jessica said...

I think that if we believe in the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" then we create laws in order to sustain these rights. I can see how you would say that making laws and making moral judgments are the same thing, but I do think that there are some moral judgments that are outside of the realm of the government to make. For example, whether or not I think homosexuality is okay, I don't think that the government needs to pass laws about it, as that would be infringing on someone's constitutional right to choose their own happiness. Of course, if your happiness infringes on someone else's, then the government should protect those others from your actions. But some immoral acts aren't hurting anyone but the person who is committing them, and since God sees fit to allow us free will to choose our actions, the government should not infringe. This is what I mean when I say that it isn't right to try to legislate morality. When a moral issue falls outside of the realm of government, then the Church must disciple its members and teach right from wrong.

Alecia said...
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The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I just got spammed by an attorney. Boy, do I feel dirty. LOL