Legislating Morality is Unavoidable

This article was published by the following newspapers:

Evansville Courier & Press – Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Norris City Banner – Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Ridgway News – Thursday, June 5, 2008
Gallatin County Democrat – Thursday, June 5, 2008


Legislating Morality is Unavoidable

“You cannot legislate morality.”  That phrase has been said countless times by people on almost every side of the political spectrum.  Yet, while the age-old maxim continues to be repeated, morality is something which politicians dutifully continue to legislate. It cannot be avoided.  After all, laws are supposed to tell us what we “should” do and “have” to do.  Likewise, morality is a question of what we “should” do and “have” to do, in order to be upright people.  Politicians don’t pass laws against things randomly.  They pass laws against things because they believe those things to be wrong.

Consider the anti-discrimination laws which protect African-American citizens.  Most people would agree that these are good laws.  It is immoral to treat a person badly, simply because his skin color is different that yours.  Therefore, these laws are intended to help put a stop to this particular type of immorality.

But what if the anti-discrimination laws were expanded, to protect pedophiles?  Would that law be equally good?  Just imagine the implications:  “You can’t refuse to hire someone, just because he exposes himself to children.  That is just his personal lifestyle.”  Imagine the outrage!  Most of us agree that this would be a terrible law.  It is immoral to be indecent with children, so we object to any law which legitimizes that activity.  In fact, most people believe opposite laws should be passed!  Not only should pedophiles be denied equal opportunity for jobs and housing; they should also be denied their very freedom!  Expose yourself to a child, and our current laws will put you behind bars for years.  As a society, we understand the immorality of such things.  So we put teeth to our beliefs with laws which discourage such behavior.  The message is clear:  Pedophilia is wrong, and if you practice it, we will discriminate against you.

What overall message are we sending as a society?  We are saying, “Discrimination is sometimes bad, and sometimes good.”  We think discrimination against African-Americans is wrong, so we legislate against it.  We think discrimination against pedophiles is good, so we legislate in favor of it.  Thus, discrimination itself is neither good nor bad.  It just matters who is being discriminated against.

What about the gay community?  I have heard both conservatives and liberals say that we cannot “legislate morality” on this issue.  Yet both parties do just that.  One group believes homosexuality is uncontrollable and morally acceptable, just like skin-color.  So they compare gay-rights with African-American-rights.  The other group believes homosexuality is both controllable and immoral, because of what the Bible says.  So they compare gay-rights with pedophilia, and with groups like the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).

Which laws should be implemented?  Should gays be protected, or shunned?  Should they be accepted, or discriminated against?  Like it or not, whether we are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or otherwise, the answer depends on what we believe to be moral.  Our religious beliefs have political consequences.

So it is with all laws, regardless of the subject matter.  We always legislate morality.

~ Joseph M. Gleason


To see Evansville Courier & Press reader responses to this article, click on this link, and scroll to the bottom:


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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