You Can’t Legislate Morality?

I find that when social liberals debate social conservatives, sooner or later the liberal will use the phrase, “You can’t legislate morality”. I find this argument to be frustrating, inane, and pointless. What I believe is meant here is, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” The simple fact is that just about any statute has some sort of moral teaching behind it. For example, if I advocate the elimination of abortion (which I do), I am also conveying the message that life has some value and that parents should not kill their children. None would argue that the above statement is not a moral message. But how about the reverse, does the other side support some sort of moral legislation as well? I would certainly argue that those who stand for the “freedom of choice” do. It is, that I (or you) have a right to privacy and what a person does with his or her own body is no business of the government. The same idea applies to fiscal matters as well. The social conservative advocates lower taxes because he thinks that he has a greater right to his money than the government. The social liberal, on the other hand, would claim that the government should take an active role in wealth distribution so that all people can enjoy at least a minimal level of prosperity. “It’s my money and not the government’s.” That is a moral statement. “The government should provide for the needs of the poor.” That, too, is a moral statement.

How about less controversial issues? Just about everyone agrees that the government should set some sort of penalty for murder (be it the death sentence, jail time, or some other form of punishment). And yet, any law against murder is, in fact, a moral statement. Murder is bad. Same with concept speed limits, speeding is bad. All seek to enforce some level of conformity to accepted societal norms and thus all are ways to legislate morality.

The simple fact is that laws are merely an extension of the morality of the society, or person who created them. Certain actions are acceptable and should be allowed, other actions are forbidden and should be punished. Is that not the principle that intertwines both law and morality?

So, next time a liberal friend, or you yourself use the line, “you can’t legislate morality”, pause to think about what you are saying. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, greens, communists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews (just to name a few) all use some sort of personal or shared morality to temper their opinions and legislation. Don’t use the same tired old line to push what you are really thinking. Instead try, “Hey, don’t push your religious or political beliefs on me.” It is far more honest.

3 Replies to “You Can’t Legislate Morality?”

  1. What you say is very true. The law DOES promote values and morals in our society. The real struggle we seem to face in 21st century America is that the mindset of most Generation Xers and beyond is that there is “no” absolute truth and that if there is any truth at all, it is relative and varies depending on the individual. Forget the fact that these beliefs are flawed and illogical. This modern day existential society is the building block of a great disaster. We need more people to speak up and declare right from wrong regardless of how it “offends” others. I have also noticed that those who subscribe to this “Don’t push your morality and views on me” are mainly atheists, agnostics, or religious only in name but not interested in theology for its personal implications.

    Your post also reminds me very much of a student whose parent grew outraged at me a few years ago for asking her student to go to the back of the line. What had happened was that two kids argued over who was there first. Both boys were sent to the back of the line as I did not see the incident. One boy went calmly and without complaint. The other chose to talk back to me in front of my other students, naturally disregarding the fact that as a teacher, I am PAID to be the authority in the classroom. When I brought this concern up to the parent, her response was first of all, he had the right to be in that particular spot in line and then, that his backtalk was simply “his right to express himself.” Obviously a case in point where “don’t shove your morality at me” comes to light.

    I know someone personally who has chosen to reject Jesus Christ and has subscribed to the false promises of atheism. She used to be my best friend many, many years ago. We can’t even have a conversation anymore because she doesn’t want me to “offend” her, and I frankly struggle to accept her choice to hurt other people and then blame them for her own problems.

    Thanks for your post, Josh! Keep up your great blogging! You speak truth! Don’t ever let the liberals and non-believers tell you otherwise!

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