Can we, do we, and should we legislate morality is a question that rings in the ears of many Americans. It seems that there are more factors, conditions and answers to this frequently asked question than the common person is willing to consider. Lets attempt to take the best ideas from the top scholars on the issue.
In order to answer the questions presented, one must fully understand the idea of morality and what it means to legislate it. What is morality?
According to Webster, morality is A doctrine or system of moral conduct: or particular moral principles or rules of conduct: or conformity to ideals of human conduct. This definition leaves much to be answered, such as: Who sets up this system? Is it relative to ones personal preferences? And can morality be forced on an individual? To further understand morality let us discuss it in more detail. Is morality relative? What laws would be considered laws of morality? Can a democratic country consider morality while writing laws? To deal with the question of relativism we will turn to the writings of Dr. Stephen Schwarz, who is a medical doctor and a writer for Ohio Life, a non-profit pro-life organization. While responding to the idea that people should not impose their morality on others Dr, Schwarz replied, The morality of not raping, and of not murdering a fellow human being is not my morality or our morality but morality itself.
This implies that there is an absolute morality, maybe we are not capable of achieving it, but it seems that the gray area between white and black is not as large as most would hope. Now on to the next question of: What exactly constitutes morality?
We have already discussed that morality is not relative and at some point becomes absolute. C.S. Lewis gives an in-depth analyzes of morality in his book Mere Christianity he talks about morality being the deciding factor between the instinct to help or the instinct to run. He also discusses the idea that morality is not relative and brings up the fact that we judge other cultures by how we rate their level of morality.
For instance if morality is relative then no one could have told the Nazis that they were wrong. So in this way the government has already set a precedent that morality is not relative, they have chosen to judge other countries and in doing this they imply that their morality is better.
First, let us try to further our understanding of the issue by reviewing what Eastern College students and faculty had to say about it. A survey of 50 students and faculty conducted on campus showed that 52% of those polled thought that morality could not be affectedly legislated, while 48% said that morality could be legislated. The make up of this survey was as follows: average age 19.8, 70% female: 30% male, 72% white: 20% African American: 3% Hispanic: 5% not reported.
40% of those polled were Republicans while only 16% were Democrats, a huge 36% of students were undecided on a political affiliation and 8% were independents. Most of those polled said the thought Congress tried to legislate morality but failed. The survey showed that on a scale of 1-10 Congress only received a 4.1 when asked to rate the morality of Congress. This would seem to explain why they thought Congress passed immoral bills.
But in fact if one looks at the history of the Congress and takes into consideration how many bills are passed by them, very few could be labeled as immoral.
In fact what most people see as the government passing immoral laws is the Supreme Court finding moral laws unconstitutional. Most people group the three branches of government together and say that the government is immoral. However, we are focusing only on Congress and if it is possible to legislate morality.
In our democratic representative government Congress has often been called on to make laws that can only be seen legislation of morality. The first question at hand is: Can Congress legislate morality? Most experts in the field of law and politics agree that it is possible to pass bills to make people moral or at least force them to act in a moral way.
In other words it is possible to legislate morality. However, one must concede that no one is absolutely moral, that is no one is always moral. As Dr. Bird, a Eastern College professor with a career in The Christian Medical Society, said in an interview on this topic of morality
I can make you moral on a individual basis.
How No smoking in public places, now I can not make you abide by that, you can refuse to show up or you can choose you show up and smoke and pay the penalty. But sooner or later if its a place you want you be, you want to see the Fliers games yea the occasional oaf will light up but in general you have high compliance and if someone lights up next to me I am going to get an usher. So you can choose to take your season tickets elsewhere or you can comply. So your individual choices are limited and I will force you to be moral almost, not totally, not absolutely, but it is in your best behavior to behave morally on some of these issues.
Dr. Bird clearly explains how it is possible to legislate action by setting consequences. However, he also says absolute morality can not be legislated. Len Munsil is an attorney and the president of The Center for Arizona Policy. He also claims that all laws are an attempt to legislate morality.
His argument is that laws are by definition a rule of conduct, while a rule sets a standard or separates right and wrong, and standards or codes of conduct are referred to as morality. (Munsil) By this explanation every law is a rule of morality. Moving on, lets answer our second question.Do we legislate morality? In the past fifty years the Government has become very cautious when dealing with religion and morality. It has abused the establishment clause, which says that the Government will not establish a state church or publicly endorse any church in any way. This clause has been used to remove prayer from schools; it has led to the removal of The Ten Commandments from the walls of our courtrooms.
Christians have not stood by and watched their rights stripped away but it seems their hands are tied. Wayne House discuses this issue in an article he wrote for a political journal. He said
The attempt of religious citizens, particularly the majority religion, Christianity, to make an impact of the political and legal process has fallen on hard times in recent years under a theory that the law should reflect no religious view since this would violate the Establishment Clause. The fact that this might be an expression of the free exercise of religion carries little weight, for in the jurisprudence of the court, the Establishment clause, which is absolute, always trump the free exercise clause which is more narrow as to conduct, though not belief.The reason the government has taken the stance that its impossible to legislate morality is simple. It makes their job easier to say we can not legislate morality rather than to try to legislate it and to deal with any consequences that might arise from their decision.
Because we know that all laws are a form of morality we know that Congress does legislate some degree of morality. Now on to our last problem: What happens when the morality thats legislated is not moral?
Should Congress legislate morality? I mentioned the consequences that might arise from the legislation of morality. These need to be taken into account before deciding on weather or not we should go out of our way to develop some kind of moral code through law. We must take into account that to some extent morality changes, for instance, two hundred years ago it was acceptable to write a law that said women could not vote and that blacks were animals. We have a different morality today and now know that our past morality was wrong.
So how do we stop this from happening again? Do our past mistakes merit removing morality from making future laws. No, as a developing nation we must learn from these mistakes and continue to grow. We need to use our ability to make laws to give the people of this country a moral code to live by.
The idea is simple: all legislation is a legislation of some kind of morality. To what extent is not always easy to determine.
However, to say that we can not legislate morality is just another quick fix phrase to make ourselves feel better about our declining society. The truth is we can legislate morality but it is not always effective and sometimes we legislate the wrong morality. The society must be prepared for these minor setbacks. We must determine who will develop the moral code of conduct. As it stands now we can not look to the government for moral support because they feel that they have no role in morality. So it is now necessary to choose what moral code you want to live by and use self discipline to follow it.