Follow Up: Can Morality Be Legislated?

August 28, 2012

Prep Question, Prepper Mindset

What is the purpose of the law

Last week, I posed a question. Can morality be legislated? In it, I encouraged you to draw a distinction between two types of laws.

Two Types of Laws

Some laws are designed to protect a person’s liberties. For example, laws that prohibit stealing or murder are designed to protect a victim from having their liberties infringed upon.

If you steal from me, you are taking more than my stuff, you are infringing upon my right to own things without fear of having them wrongfully taken from me. You have violated my rights. With these laws, there are clear victims. These are not laws that enforce moral behavior; they are laws that protect a person’s rights.

The second kind of laws are designed to regulate and influence personal behavior. Using illegal drugs and prostitution are good examples of these kinds of laws. The general population considers using recreational, mind-altering drugs to be a bad thing and as such it shouldn’t be done. Therefore, laws have been enacted to make it illegal to do those activities.

But, as much as we may think those activities are reprehensible, should they be illegal? They may be bad choices and lead to personal destruction, but there is no victim. No one other than the persons doing these activities are harmed. No one’s rights are being violated when the act is committed.

The Role of the Government

So the question is: should laws be enacted by the government to protect us from ourselves and our own personal bad decisions?

I don’t think so. In fact, those laws, in effect, are violating my rights by taking away some of my personal freedoms – the freedom to make bad decisions that only affect me. I should have the right to make personal decisions – for my own good or bad. They are my decisions to make.

In the drugs and prostitution examples, I believe those personal decisions are bad ones. They lead down a path of self-destruction and pain. I will not choose to do these things. It doesn’t matter to me if there are legal or not, I will not choose to do those things. But I don’t believe that it is the government’s responsibility to limit choices.

Allowing the government to make these kinds of laws also fosters a paternal instinct in government officials and legislators. They seem to believe that it is their job to take care of the citizenry as a parent does a child. That’s not the role of government. Government works for and reports to the people; it doesn’t care for them as some kind of benevolent authority.

And the citizenry shouldn’t expect to be taken care of.

Free Will

I believe the immoral choices in the examples above are acts that stem from a depraved heart and should not be committed. However we were born with a free will, the freedom to choose to do good or ill, to love God and pursue Him or to disregard Him and pursue ourselves. I don’t believe that the government can or should limit those choices.

If the government is empowered to dictate which choices are considered good and acceptable and which I need to be protected from, what standard will be used? The U.S. was founded with Judeo-Christian ideals and principles, but what if another set of principles became dominant? Would we be so accepting of the laws that enforce those morales?

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity touched on this issue a bit. Although his primary point was divorce, I believe that it can be extended to any number of other issues.

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammdens tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

So, my answer is no. I don’t believe the government can or should attempt to enforce morality through the use of laws.

Making certain personal choices illegal is not right. In fact, it’s reminiscent of countries that the U.S. has distinct disagreements with. In China, it’s illegal for a family to choose to have more than one child according to their Family Planning Policy. Is that right? It’s a personal choice that affects only the family.

So what do you think? 

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5 Comments on “Follow Up: Can Morality Be Legislated?”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    British people who are not Christians probably live moral lives. People assume that anyone not a Christian is immoral–stealing, lying, raping, and generally not “good” people. Remember all the “Christians” who commit adultery? Some of the most ethical people I know are atheists or just not wanting to join a church.

    We tried to legislate morality during prohibition. The result was to make the Kennedy’s wealthy and to make criminals of ordinary people–Christians and non-Christians.

    As for prostitution, at one time there was no problem until the governments saw that women were not paying taxes. THEN is when brothels were formed and regulated. Before that, young women just wanted to make a little money. Even the Christians did not object. As a matter of fact, they used the prostitutes’ services. Prostitutes flourished in three places that were male dominated–seats of government, education facilities, and centers of commerce.

    Interference by the law and churches led to mistreatment of independent women now in bondage to pimps.


    • Joe Says:

      Hi Practical Parsimony –

      You’re right. There have been many, many egregious acts throughout history committed in the name of religion. By quoting C.S. Lewis, I didn’t intend to imply that all would be right if only everyone was Christian. We know that is not true.

      I believe the intent of laws and lawmakers have changed over the course of American history. (I haven’t lived abroad so I cannot comment on that.) Initially, laws were implemented to protect our liberties. Now they are used to control our actions. Just as tax incentives are provided to encourage/discourage certain behavior, laws have been implemented to criminalize activities that the government disapproves of.




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