Can we, do we, and should we legislate morality is a question that rings in theears of many Americans. It seems that there are more factors, conditions andanswers to this frequently asked question than the common person is willing toconsider. Lets attempt to take the best ideas from the top scholars on theissue.
In order to answer the questions presented, one must fully understand theidea of morality and what it means to legislate it. What is morality? Accordingto Webster, morality is A doctrine or system of moral conduct: or particularmoral principles or rules of conduct: or conformity to ideals of humanconduct. This definition leaves much to be answered, such as: Who sets upthis system? Is it relative to ones personal preferences? And can morality beforced on an individual? To further understand morality let us discuss it inmore detail. Is morality relative? What laws would be considered laws ofmorality? Can a democratic country consider morality while writing laws? To dealwith the question of relativism we will turn to the writings of Dr. StephenSchwarz, who is a medical doctor and a writer for Ohio Life, a non-profitpro-life organization.
While responding to the idea that people should notimpose their morality on others Dr, Schwarz replied, The morality of notraping, and of not murdering a fellow human being is not my morality orour morality but morality itself. This implies that there is anabsolute morality, maybe we are not capable of achieving it, but it seems thatthe gray area between white and black is not as large as most would hope. Now onto the next question of: What exactly constitutes morality? We have alreadydiscussed 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 Christianityhe talks about morality being the deciding factor between the instinct to helpor the instinct to run. He also discusses the idea that morality is not relativeand brings up the fact that we judge other cultures by how we rate their levelof morality. For instance if morality is relative then no one could have toldthe Nazis that they were wrong. So in this way the government has already seta precedent that morality is not relative, they have chosen to judge othercountries and in doing this they imply that their morality is better. First, letus try to further our understanding of the issue by reviewing what EasternCollege students and faculty had to say about it. A survey of 50 students andfaculty conducted on campus showed that 52% of those polled thought thatmorality could not be affectedly legislated, while 48% said that morality couldbe 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 butfailed. The survey showed that on a scale of 1-10 Congress only received a 4.
1when asked to rate the morality of Congress. This would seem to explain why theythought Congress passed immoral bills. But in fact if one looks at the historyof 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 thegovernment passing immoral laws is the Supreme Court finding moral lawsunconstitutional. Most people group the three branches of government togetherand say that the government is immoral. However, we are focusing only onCongress and if it is possible to legislate morality.
In our democraticrepresentative government Congress has often been called on to make laws thatcan only be seen legislation of morality. The first question at hand is: CanCongress legislate morality? Most experts in the field of law and politics agreethat it is possible to pass bills to make people moral or at least force them toact 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 isalways moral. As Dr. Bird, a Eastern College professor with a career in TheChristian Medical Society, said in an interview on this topic of morality I canmake you moral on a individual basis.
How No smoking in public places, now Ican not make you abide by that, you can refuse to show up or you can choose youshow up and smoke and pay the penalty. But sooner or later if its a place youwant you be, you want to see the Fliers games yea the occasional oaf willlight up but in general you have high compliance and if someone lights up nextto me I am going to get an usher. So you can choose to take your season ticketselsewhere or you can comply. So your individual choices are limited and I willforce you to be moral almost, not totally, not absolutely, but it is in yourbest behavior to behave morally on some of these issues.
Dr. Bird clearlyexplains how it is possible to legislate action by setting consequences. However, he also says absolute morality can not be legislated. Len Munsil is anattorney and the president of The Center for Arizona Policy. He also claims thatall laws are an attempt to legislate morality.
His argument is that laws are bydefinition a rule of conduct, while a rule sets a standard or separates rightand 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 oursecond question. Do we legislate morality? In the past fifty years theGovernment has become very cautious when dealing with religion and morality. Ithas abused the establishment clause, which says that the Government will notestablish a state church or publicly endorse any church in any way.
This clausehas been used to remove prayer from schools; it has led to the removal of TheTen Commandments from the walls of our courtrooms. Christians have not stood byand watched their rights stripped away but it seems their hands are tied. WayneHouse discuses this issue in an article he wrote for a political journal. Hesaid The attempt of religious citizens, particularly the majority religion,Christianity, to make an impact of the political and legal process has fallen onhard times in recent years under a theory that the law should reflect noreligious view since this would violate the Establishment Clause. The fact thatthis might be an expression of the free exercise of religion carries littleweight, for in the jurisprudence of the court, the Establishment clause, whichis absolute, always trump the free exercise clause which is more narrow as toconduct, though not belief.
The reason the government has taken the stance thatits impossible to legislate morality is simple. It makes their job easier to saywe can not legislate morality rather than to try to legislate it and to dealwith any consequences that might arise from their decision. Because we know thatall laws are a form of morality we know that Congress does legislate some degreeof morality. Now on to our last problem: What happens when the morality thatslegislated is not moral’should Congress legislate morality? I mentioned theconsequences that might arise from the legislation of morality. These need to betaken into account before deciding on weather or not we should go out of our wayto develop some kind of moral code through law. We must take into account thatto some extent morality changes, for instance, two hundred years ago it wasacceptable to write a law that said women could not vote and that blacks wereanimals.
We have a different morality today and now know that our past moralitywas wrong. So how do we stop this from happening again? Do our past mistakesmerit removing morality from making future laws. No, as a developing nation wemust learn from these mistakes and continue to grow. We need to use our abilityto make laws to give the people of this country a moral code to live by. Theidea is simple: all legislation is a legislation of some kind of morality.
Towhat extent is not always easy to determine. However, to say that we can notlegislate morality is just another quick fix phrase to make ourselves feelbetter about our declining society. The truth is we can legislate morality butit is not always effective and sometimes we legislate the wrong morality. Thesociety must be prepared for these minor setbacks. We must determine who willdevelop the moral code of conduct.
As it stands now we can not look to thegovernment for moral support because they feel that they have no role inmorality. So it is now necessary to choose what moral code you want to live byand use self discipline to follow it.Philosophy