November 30, 2004

Legislating Morality

Okay, I'm still open to requests, but I did come up with something to write about, which I will

Lately, people on both the left and right side of the political spectrum have been carping about "legislating morality." It's not a new complaint by any means, but ever since the "Jesusland" meme became trendy, it's gained a new life and new supporters, including a few right-leaning individuals who really should know better. I won't name anyone, but they're out there.

According to these people, government should never, ever legislate morality. Moral issues should be private business, not public policy. It sounds good at first, especially to "separation of church and state" proponents, but it's horribly, horribly wrong. I've mentioned before that I basically learned how to think critically from Greg Koukl, so the following rant will undoubtedly show that influence (he's even talked about this issue more than once), but I want to apply it to current events. Join me in the extended entry, and I'll tell you more...

First of all, we have to figure out exactly what "morality" is supposed to mean. Then, we can determine what should and should not be legislated. Let's look at a definition from

1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
3. Virtuous conduct.
4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.

Basically, "morality" refers to what people consider right and/or wrong. However, the people who think government shouldn't legislate "morality" seem to be a bit confused about that. They view morality in the same way that many view faith: Belief in something that cannot be proved, disproved, or truly argued for. I disagree with defining both terms that way, but I'll focus on morality here to avoid going off on a religious tangent. That's for another day.

You see, if morality refers to a system of right and wrong, and government shouldn't legislate morality, then government is pretty much incapable of doing anything. Think about it. Are things like rape, theft, murder, fraud, terrorism, etc. not moral issues? That's ludicrous. We have laws against those things because common morality says that they're wrong. They weren't just arbitrarily chosen as Bad Things; they were identified as bad because they are.

You see, any time you decide that something is wrong or right, you're making a moral choice. I'm not talking about picking a shirt for the day or deciding what to have for dinner; I'm talking about decisions that involve values. Right, wrong, good, and bad are moral terms. People often differ on what's moral and immoral, but most of the time, legislation is based on morality. Rape is illegal because it's bad. Murder is illegal because it's bad. And this is based on moral reasoning, not some legal roulette wheel that the Founding Fathers brought with them.

Now that I've established that, let's see where people go wrong in telling politicians not to legislate morality. I'll use examples from the left here, although the right (or whatever libertarians and their ilk like to be called) often uses the meme as well.

Issue #1: Abortion

Those of us who are pro-life think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases because it causes the intentional death of an innocent human being, making it immoral and wrong. Pro-choicers, in response, sometimes claim that we shouldn't "legislate morality" by trying to outlaw abortion. As someone who supports the "most, but not all" side of the anti-abortion camp, I realize that there's some ambiguity in how much morality should be involved, but you can't deny that it is, in fact, a moral choice whether or not abortion is allowed.

If you think it's wrong to outlaw abortions, and you make legal abortion public policy, then guess what? YOU JUST LEGISLATED YOUR OWN MORALITY. And I'm sure if you could ask the millions of children who die every year from abortion, they'd agree that your morality was forced on them.

People seem to forget that morality consists of beliefs about what people shouldn't do, and beliefs about what they should do or should be allowed to do.

Issue #2: Same-sex marriage

I can already hear the moonbats frothing about this one. So, you think that there should be "equal marriage rights," and only homophobic religious fanatics could be against it? Well, if you legalize same-sex marriage, you have once again LEGISLATED MORALITY. Some people think it's wrong, and some people don't. No matter who wins, you've got yourself a moral decision there, partner (pun intended).

Issue #3: War

Specifically, the war in Iraq. Every good liberal knows that the Iraq war was wrong, and they want us to leave. That's interesting, because if we leave on the basis of it being the wrong decision, then we will yet again be LEGISLATING MORALITY. Any response to terror, other threats, etc. is a moral choice. If you think diplomacy and sanctions should've continued, then that's what you think is moral in the situation, and if we go that route, we're legislating it. Isn't this fascinating?

Issue #4: The environment

Now we'll really have some fun. Many lefties like to whine about how the evil Bushchimperor is destroying the environment by allowing big corporations to pollute it...or some tree-huggin' hippy crap like that. Anyway, they think there should be more environmental regulations to stop this. But wait! Wouldn't that be FORCING YOUR MORALITY on those who pollute the environment? What right do you have to tell them that what they're doing is wrong, you envirofascists?!

See what I'm getting at? No matter where you look, government is legislating someone's morality. Even on issues like tax cuts, people choose their side based on what they think is better for society. You can't have good, bad, right, and wrong without morality, because without morals, those words would have no meaning. Since they're based on some sort of reasoning, and not a random designation, they have substance and should be treated as arguments, not articles of faith that must be relegated to private life and never mentioned. Heck, even elections are moral choices; people vote for the candidate they think would be better for the country.

Just remember: Next time someone tells you that government shouldn't legislate morality, ask them if they thought the war was wrong. You get bonus points if they say "there is no truth" and then pass out from an overload of cognitive dissonance when you respond with "is that true?"

Heh heh.

Posted by CD on November 30, 2004 04:26 PM
Category: Essays
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