So I am sure that many of you are sitting here saying, “didn’t we just talk about this subject?” Well, the answer would be yes and no. I felt as though we began to discuss this subject but that it quickly devolved away from the subject and into other realms. I was not the only one that noticed this, as several of you left comments lamenting the lack of discussion on the topic at hand and several others sent me emails to espouse the same sentiment. So I decided that I would offer the article up again and see if we can’t get a more focused conversation around it. For anyone that forgot, or who wasn’t around for the original posting last week, I offered this as a mash-up with both my and Jon Smith’s thoughts on the subject. I have changed the first paragraph (the one you are reading right now) but have otherwise left the article unchanged. What I would like to do is discuss the concept of legislating morality as compared to legislating freedom, and ferret out why one works and the other is one that leads us down a path of tyranny and oppression. I will bring over some of the conversations that I felt went down the right path, and obviously others are welcome to do the same. This is not an attempt to keep anyone’s thoughts down, but more to have another chance to discuss a topic that I felt kind of got away from us.
You see, my problem is that I fail to see how “moral” law and “freedom” law can coexist as equal aspirations in modern America. Don’t get me wrong, laws that protect and promote freedom should adhere to a moral code. But we should remember that the first rule of law should be protecting freedom, while the moral aspect is one to strive for. Freedom must be the absolute that guides our decisions. Freedom should never be a like to have, it must always be a starting point. We cannot expect to live free if we attempt to do it backwards. We simply cannot be free if we start by saying moral law is the goal, and then try to find a way to be free around it. There is simply no clear definition of “moral”. Christians like to tell us that the bible tells us what moral law is. That is all fine…. unless you are not a christian, in which case what the bible says means nothing to you. To force you to adhere to the bible when you don’t believe in it certainly doesn’t fit anyone’s definition of freedom. More important, that you do not believe in the bible has no bearing on whether you are a moral person. 70% of the world is not christian, yet the vast majority still manage to be moral.
In discussing this below, Jon Smith is reacting to TexasChem. TC has been one of the bigger advocates for legislating morality. It appears to be his contention that a society that fails to legislate morality will thus fall into being immoral (the appears is italicized only because I cannot claim to actually speak for TC). This is a contention that I completely disagree with. You simply cannot legislate morality, because making something legal or illegal does not change what the people in a society view as wrong or right. It simply inserts government into the picture, nothing more and nothing less. Regardless of what the law says, people will act morally or they will not. TC believes gay marriage is immoral. But legislating that gay marriage is illegal will not make gay people straight. It will not make the number of gay people decline. It will simply set a rule that makes being gay illegal, not immoral. And for what purpose? What act of violence did that gay couple commit? How did they infringe on other’s ability to live a moral life?
As Americans, we fail to see that the whims of our own personal morality cannot be the basis of law. Black Flag likes to point out the Law of Mutuality, and it absolutely applies in this situation. For one to believe that since the majority feels that something is moral so it is OK to legislate that belief, they must also accept that when they are the minority, their own beliefs are subject to being outlawed. Legislating anything based on christianity because a majority are christians sets the table for the fact that should another religion rise to majority status, christians are subject to having THEIR practices and beliefs outlawed. Christians seem to be OK with that in the US because they simply cannot fathom the idea that they could ever be the minority. But that is an insane assumption given the dramatic rates with which people are walking away from the church.
I hear a lot of outcry against Sharia law in our country. My personal belief is that Sharia law is barbaric and cruel. Christians feel the same, and make the mistake of claiming they can morally legislate against it in the same way that they believe they can legislate against gay marriage. Follow that trail of logic. Christians believe that they have the right to legislate THEIR version of marriage as the only kind of legal marriage in America. But what happens if muslims or homosexuals become the majority in America. Will christians accept that since the majority believes in it, that only Sharia law or gay marriage would be the legally accepted version of marriage. Would they be prepared for the law to refuse to recognize the marriage between a man and a woman? Would they be prepared to recognize the right of a husband to require that his wife be covered from head to toe? I think not. I think christians would tell the muslims and homosexuals that they have no right to tell christians how to live their personal lives. Yet the christians believe that they have a right to tell those two groups how to do exactly that!
The answer, and one that those who wish to legislate moral law refuse to accept, is to take personal accountability for our own lives and how we live them, while understanding that how others live their lives is none of our business. Our laws should never, ever, dictate to another how to live their lives or dictate to others what they cannot do, unless those actions will somehow impact another’s personal freedom. I can live on a street full of muslims practicing Sharia law, or a street full of homosexuals all in same sex marriages, and it will not impact the marriage that I have one iota! It won’t make me want to cover my wife when she goes in public, and it wont’ make me suddenly decide that my wife isn’t attractive but Mike over there is. What those other families do has no impact on my freedom. So there should be no law limiting their ability to do so.
The bottom line is this: Refusing to legislate morality does not impact that moral character of a community, a city, a state, or a country. To believe otherwise is to believe that people cannot be moral unless the law tells them to. What has caused the rapid loss of morals in our society is the fact that people have fallen into the false belief that it is government’s job to dictate moral action. They have abdicated personal responsibility. It is the job of a parent to teach morals. It is not the job of society to enforce morals through legislation. Morality dies the day parents no longer believe it is their role exclusively to teach and enforce moral behavior to their children. When we start believing that the most corrupt and immoral institution in America, government, should be enforcing morality, we are in deep trouble.
In a bizarre twist, the christian right still believes that the majority should enforce moral law on others…. in a time when they are no longer in the majority. Christians, the majority is speaking! And they have rejected what you believe. Do you not understand that this is exactly why you cannot legislate morality, why you cannot allow government to set those rules? The progressive movement has grown tremendously. You rail against them for infringing on your freedoms, while simultaneously claiming that the majority have the right to have government infringe upon freedoms!
This is why, my friends, legislating morality is a very, very bad idea. It is why the only way that laws should be placed into society is as a mechanism to protect freedom. Freedom must be the starting point. Both sides of the political spectrum in American politics are off kilter, because neither is any longer the party of freedom. We have the party of big government against the party of small government (hypothetically at least). But no party of freedom.
When morality becomes the basis for law, then we have sacrificed what this country was truly intended to represent. The founders believed in a country where government’s only purpose was to serve the people and protect the individual rights that are inherent to all men. They did not, I repeat did not, believe that the country was meant to be one where judeo-christian values became the rule of law. All those that claim otherwise are lying to themselves. It matters not one whit what the religion of the founders was. They were not constructing a church. They were constructing a country, and one where the right to worship as you choose was paramount to their struggle. The key to their system was that it protected inherent rights. THAT was the purpose. The day morality becomes the basis for law in America, Freedom has truly died, and America will not be far behind it.
Moral Law vs. Freedom Law
by Jon Smith
I was asked recently on USWeapon’s blog by a smart fellow blogger named TexasChem about moral law versus natural law. I took from TexasChem’s definition that when he said “natural law”, he was referring to “natural rights”, or the freedoms which are our birthright. I will refer to this here as “freedom law”, as it more clearly defines the basis for law as I see it.
We are all free individuals. This concept of freedom is more clearly defined as legal freedom, wherein we are free from government law or restriction that violates our freedom, and we are free from authorized violence or infringement on our freedoms by other persons. Any action we choose to take that does not restrict the freedoms or damage/take away the property of another person is not to be legally stopped or restricted.
There are influences of social mores that may still be in effect, and there are aspects of societal interaction that influence morality, but in all, freedom is its own thing. There are no laws in such a society that enforce morality, except for laws and enforcement against immoral acts that violate the freedoms of other individuals. This does not mean that such a society is immoral, it simply means that its morality is the responsibility of its own people, not of law or government.
In a society of moral law, there may be many things that overlap the society based on freedom law. No stealing, no murder, no coercion or violence, no fraud, etc. The issue is that there are certain freedoms that are violated by society. People are not allowed to do things that harm themselves, or that are bad in society’s eyes. People cannot drink or smoke or wear improper clothing, etc. Such a society might function well in theory. The issue is that the decision of what is moral is decided by whom?
There is no logical premise for consistency in such a moral society. There is no basis for what is appropriate to wear. Is it immoral to wear a bikini? Is it immoral to wear jeans that are too tight? Is it immoral for a native tribe to wear breach cloths and no top? Whose morality are we talking about? What is the basis for moral law? Christianity? Islamic faith? Buddhism? Witchcraft? Atheism? What really decides what is moral? With freedom law, it can be consistently decided that what is freedom for one can be freedom for another, and what things violate the freedom of one cannot be freedoms for another.
Morality has no such universal application.
So what about a hybrid? No such hybrid can exist. The issues that arise in inconsistency in moral law would still arise in a hybrid. In instances where morality called for universal charity to be forced by law, freedom law is violated. In cases where morality called for making certain clothing illegal, freedom of choice is violated. Where does it end? In cases where there are disagreements on morality, those in favor of moral law can use the law of the land in their favor, or can use it as an excuse for being immoral. When morality is not the responsibility of society it is passed off onto government. When it becomes the responsibility of law, of the government, then people use that as either a hammer to force compliance (even if your code of morality differs) or an excuse for immoral acts.
So what is the effect on faith, on moral code itself? When people comply by force of law they consider themselves in compliance, but are they moral? Is morality just a listing of acts or lack of acts? Is it just a matter of what is on the outside? For some maybe it is, but for most, faith and morality is a matter of the inside, the heart, the soul, the faith within. Such things are lost in a society of moral law.
I submit that morality is essential in a society. Great societies in history have always fallen. On the path to failing, those societies have generally gone through a period of comparative immorality. Was it the loss of the moral code or the corresponding attitude of self-indulgence and selfishness. Was it the lack of family structure or the ease of indoctrination it leads to, or both? Was it the failure of people to be moral or the failing of their faith in anything? Was it the loss of morality or the dependency people had on government enforcing it? Was it the loss of morality or the loss of faith itself?
I submit that morality, at least the action and inactions associated with it, are an outward expression of the state of society and the individuals in it. By the time morality is lost, faith and cohesion and even a true belief in freedom for all is already lost in society.
Using law to try to hang on to that morality is like closing the gate after the horse has escaped. In fact, since the use of law to create morality reduces the need or motivation for faith or societal mores, it is more like sabotaging the gate and so that the horse can get out, then tying it shut.
I submit that freedom law, natural law, the rights of all men to be free, is the only standard by which law can be consistently written. I also submit that moral law is a farce, a concept that cannot be compatible with freedom, in spite of the fact that so much of morality and moral law complies with freedom law. So much of it matches. And so much of it feels like the right thing to moral people. I do not have a problem with morality. I do not have a problem with many of the things that those who seek moral law want. I think many of them would be good for society. I think a society that supports family values and minimal self destruction is a good thing. I think a society that cared nothing for that is a bad one or at least an unhealthy one, no matter how free its law might be. But a society that tries to use law to support such values is already on the path to destruction, and it will end in evil and tyranny no matter how much it may want to save itself.