Can Morality Be Legislated?
by Dan Wafford 6/30/2011 / Politics
Often, when people disagree with Christian principles, they trot out the phrase, "You can't legislate morality." This claim is typically used in an effort to short-circuit discussions regarding such issues as drug use, homosexuality, and others where there is generally not a long history or tradition of legislation. "Well, that's a personal choice: you can't legislate morality." Or "What I do in the privacy of my own home is nobody's business: you can't legislate morality."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those who use this argument will readily acknowledge the validity of such laws as those prohibiting theft or murder. "Things like that are obviously wrong, because they harm someone else: that's the kind of laws we should stick to, and leave moral issues up to personal decision."
Such arguments are based on the principle that harming someone else physically or financially is inherently wrong. But that, too, is a moral judgment, based upon the principle that all people have equal rights.
There can be, and frequently have been, societies where laws were not based on such a system of values. One obvious example would be the South before the Civil War. Then and there, it was perfectly legal for a white man to buy or sell a black man, to steal his labor, to injure him physically, to rape his wife or his children, and generally even to murder him with impunity. If those acts were not illegal under the laws of the land, then what made them wrong, if not the moral principle that all people should be entitled to the same rights, regardless of the color of their skin or their station in life? Equality of races is a moral principle. Sanctity of life is a moral principle.
Until early in the twentieth century, American women were not allowed to vote. If that was perfectly legal at that time, then what made it wrong, if not the moral judgment that all people should be equally entitled to the right to vote, regardless of their gender? Equality of sexes is a moral principle.
When Muslims control a society, Islamic law enforces a tax, called jizya or jizyah, solely upon non-Muslims. If this is perfectly legal under the legislation of that Islamic society, what makes it wrong, if not the moral judgment that people should not be penalized for their choice of religion? Equality of those with differing religious beliefs is a moral principle.
Until early in the twentieth century, children in most industrialized nations were brutally exploited in factories, working twelve, fourteen, or even more hours per day under extremely unpleasant, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and receiving only pennies for their services. If that was perfectly legal under the existing laws, then what made it wrong, if not the moral judgment that those who are smaller, weaker and poorer should not be abused and exploited? Preventing exploitation of the weak and poor is a moral principle.
I could name many more examples, but these are sufficient to prove the point. Again, nothing could be further from the truth: not only is it possible to legislate morality, it can very nearly be said that the only thing you can legislate is morality. What makes anything right or wrong, if that judgment is not based upon a system of values, a set of moral principles?
It is small wonder that many in our modern society fail to recognize this moral foundation of the legal system: it is basically ingrained in our perceptions through not just a lifetime, but many generations who have accepted it as a fundamentally inherent characteristic of life.
And rightly so: a society without a moral foundation is like a ship without a rudder: it will simply be tossed to and fro by the waves and pushed along whichever way the wind happens to blow. It is only by comparison to an unshakeable set of moral principles that we can ever truly know wrong from right.
The majority of moral principles that are generally accepted by modern American society come directly from the Bible. It is there that we learn the sanctity of life: Thou shalt not kill. It is there that we learn to respect the right of others to their own property: Thou shalt not steal.
But much of our modern society wants to embrace those moral principles in the Bible that they find convenient, while rejecting those that would limit their illicit desires. They are quite happy to claim as inherent rights the protection of their person, property and freedom. Yet they protest vigorously any instruction that they should honor the marriage covenant: Thou shalt not commit adultery; that they should deal honestly with their fellow man: Thou shalt not bear false witness; that they should honor the institution of family: Honor thy father and thy mother; and most of all, that they should honor the God Who created them: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Our society has essentially rejected God's sovereignty and authority. People today place no value on a moral principle simply because it was commanded by God. The only portions of His law they give any respect are those that protect their own interests.
The moral decay of our society is becoming more apparent with every passing day. It is not that decay has not been occurring in the past, but rather that it has been less visible. When ours was essentially a Christian society, the majority of people accepted all of God's moral law as necessary to a peaceful and ordered life. When people first began to abandon God, they felt a degree of constraint from those who still reverenced Him. For the most part, they hid their sins in shame.
But as the rebellious learned to enjoy their sins more and to fear the constraints of society less, they became bolder, openly flaunting their rebellion. They have learned to attack rather than hide. They have succeeded in shutting God out of our schools, yet they wonder why sexually transmitted diseases, drug addiction and mass murders have replaced reading, writing and arithmetic. They are succeeding at legitimizing homosexuality and destroying the family, yet they are amazed by the exploding divorce rate. They are succeeding at forcefully ripping away from our government any connection with or reverence to the God Who made their freedom possible, yet they wonder why our prisons are bursting at the seams.
They are succeeding at disseminating the lie that "you can't legislate morality," and in the process are destroying what few vestiges of morality remain in this once-great country.
Dan Wafford lives in beautiful coastal Georgia. He holds a BS in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University and an MBA from Stanford University. He writes Christian articles, essays, songs and books, as well as novels and popular music. His book The DiVine Code, which reveals details of encoded messages in the Bible, is currently available at Amazon.com. More information about The DiVine Code is available at http://www.thedivinecodebook.com