Can we legislate morality?

In between family reunions last Saturday and this Saturday, Carol and I visited several of our favorite bookstores in Utah. I know. What a crazy thing to do on a vacation. We also go to the main Church Distribution Center since the California stores are small. In the past, I have liked to visit Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. A new one for us this year is the Deseret Book Outlet store in South Jordan.

Although we already have a huge library and keep lamenting that it seems to grow larger by itself, Carol picked up a few bargains there. Most books are overstocks available at one third the price. I resisted everything I saw until this one caught my eye: The Sex Industrial Complex, America’s Secret Combination – Pornographic Culture, Addiction and the Human Brain. What a title!

As usual, I read the back cover of the dust jacket and saw an endorsement from Marie Osmond. That caused me to open it and read the inside front of the cover where I saw something else that caught my eye – the Lighted Candle Society. Where had I seen that before? Oh yes, it was one of those organizations I listed in the additional resources in my previous post on porn addiction.

The Survival of the Republic

A scan through the book looked like it would be interesting reading but what got me to buy it was the last chapter. I confess that I read it first. It is entitled, “The Survival of the Republic.” There are some amazing quotes there that resonated with me as I read them, especially in light of my recent post about the founding fathers and a long dialog with Crusty about freedom.

Benjamin Franklin said at the conclusion of the Constitutional convention in 1789, “This Republic, which we have given you with this constitution, will end in despotism, as other forms of government have done before it, when the people become so corrupt that they are incapable of any other form of government.” Was he speaking with a foreknowledge of coming events?

John Locke, the English philosopher said, “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law.” We need laws to be governed and to live in peace.

Successful government and moral values

George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these finest props of the duties of men and citizens.” Moral values are required for a Republic to endure.

Referring to the Constitution, James Madison said, “We base this whole experiment on man’s ability to be governed by law.” Our Republic can only continue as envisioned by the founding fathers as long as we as a people believe in the rule of law. It takes personal conviction in the value of law and willingness to submit to it that allows a people to be governed and yet free.

Can we legislate morality? Yes, we can and we have and it is a good thing. Morality is about right and wrong, and that’s what laws put into legal form. The only question is whose morality should be legislated? Thomas Jefferson answered that when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Standards of morality come from God

Our Declaration of Independence gives us the direction we should look for defining standards of morality and conduct in our Republic in order for all citizens to be free. The source for morality and therefore the source for our laws is God. Our founding fathers understood this and gave us a platform for defining our laws – the word of God. Yes, we were founded as a Christian nation.

John L. Harmer, the author writes, “Today, our nation is under an attack by a combination of forces that if they prevail, will effectively destroy the basis upon which this nation’s freedom and liberty were conceived and founded. The entire fabric of our government is based upon the commitment of the American people to standards of dignity, integrity and virtue.”

“We believe very strongly that the greatest threat to our political freedom is the loss of moral values. To put it in a positive sense, the most vital factor in the preservation of our freedom and liberty is the individual citizen’s respect for moral values and their commitment to them.” As moral and ethical virtues erode in our people, hedonism will replace government and freedom.

Summary and conclusion

Although the book is about fighting against pornography, I found the insights into the connection between freedom, government and morality to be most enlightening. I have seen examples of this loss of freedom in many individuals. Because they do not adhere to moral standards that have been well established by God and his prophets, they find it very difficult to be governed.

As more and more members of our society refuse to accept and live by moral standards, the effect is a rejection of a government that is based on those standards. Not content to live above the law, they advocate changing the law or abolishing the law to suit their rejection of morality. The day will come when they will attempt to create laws proclaiming that morality is punishable.

There is a battle being fought in California today in the form of an amendment to the state constitution that demonstrates how this rejection of morality is a rejection of government. Our nation has a history of laws that are based on morality as defined by God and his prophets. A rejection of this amendment is a rejection of God and his right to set the standards of morality.

Additional Information

Four Simple Things to Help our Families and our Nations, Gordon B. Hinckley

Religious Values and Public Policy, Dallin H. Oaks

Personal Morality, David B. Haight

Let our Voices be Heard, M. Russell Ballard

7 thoughts on “Can we legislate morality?”

  1. Wow . . . just, wow. I don’t normally read these sorts of books (I’m a junk reader, I confess), but now I want to read it. This is a question I’ve struggled with. Popular opinion would say we cannot legislate morality, but there has always been something wrong about that thought. I must know more!

  2. Tim,It sounds like you are having a productive (and hopefully restful) vacation. No, it does not sound strange to me that you would go to Sam Weller’s on your vacation. I would.You have made important points. To maximize freedom there must be moral constraints, many of which must become law in order to regulate society. In the beginning of our country the laws revolved around Judeo-Christian ethics that most could agree upon. It seems like we have moved away from that.While I definitely do NOT think that particular denominations should be legislated into the government, it seems a mistake to me to try to make government devoid of all religion at all.How is it freedom if a predominantly religious community of tax-payers cannot decide for themselves to have prayer in schools? It makes no sense to me. And, yes, if the community was predominantly Muslim, I think they should be allowed to have multiple prayers during the school day. But, that is me. I see religion as an important cultural component of life, and I see no harm in being exposed to prayer, even other peoples’ prayers.Ehhh, we have let ourselves be dragged away from religion in this country.

  3. All laws are someone’s version of morality. Many do not know that morality is broader than religion. Religion is particular beliefs regarding right and wrong, with regard to our relationship with God and eternity, and can differ from group to group. Morality is simply the opinion of anyone about what is right or wrong, aka environment, child rearing, health practices, diet, etc. It’s one of those words that we no longer correctly define and thus we can not make a point without correcting the definition for all involved in the discussion. I really believe Satan has figured out that by redefining our words he hampers our ability to proclaim truth. We may proclaim it with the proper definition, but it will not be heard as we mean it.

  4. It’s worse than we relize. I joined the Navy about 1 year ago and am shocked at how bad it is. Many who praise Jesus and call themselves Christian think porn is normal and heathy. Most of them began viewing it in their early teens.We have an epidemic in our nation of sex offenders. 99.99999 percent or higher of these people view porn on a regular basis. Many of them were exposed to it at an early age.I think with growing number of sex offenders, and the way pornography is being accessed by minors it is right to legislate this. Even if you do not believe in God, it is clear that this is a danger to society.

  5. Anthony Larson

    I appreciate your research on this matter, Tim.Most of us do not understand the intimate relationship between morality, law and government. In my opinion, we have squandered the inheritace of freedom bequeathed us by our forefathers, surrendering rights secured to the people in exchange for privilage and convenience.I have made the principles of law and govenment a lifelong study, thanks to the urging of Pres. Ezra T. Benson.Like others, I have seen the appalling trend away from morality and law escalate in my lifetime. One day, this downhill slide away from correct principles in law and government, not just increasing immorality, will take us over the edge. I do not know where that tipping point lies, but I cannot help but think we are swiftly approaching it, if not already upon it.

  6. The logic here is very muddled. It is unjust for the state to legislate morality. Why? Well first we must understand the difference between a vice and a crime. As the 19th century political philosopher Lysander Spooner stated in Vices Are Not Crimes, “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property. For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things.”There is no end to the number of tyrannical laws that can be imposed if people decide to outlaw vices instead of just crimes. If the vices of drugs and gambling are outlawed, then why stop there? What about the vice of fornication? Shouldn’t those people be fined/jailed? What about the vice of adultery? Pornography? Working on Sunday? Not having Family Home Evening or Home Teaching?As far as drugs go, by what right does the state presume to tell you what you can put in your own body? Does the state have the right to protect you from harming yourself? If so, should it also prevent you from drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating fast food, or not exercising? If not, why should it try to stop you from ruining your life with heroin, but not with gambling, bourbon or cheeseburgers?You say, “Well a person on drugs is more likely to hurt someone or steal.” Well if he does, he has gone from a vice of using drugs and harming himself, to a crime of hurting someone else and stealing their property. For that he should be punished accordingly.The state should have no involvement in “probabilities.” If so, then it could arrest all males from the ages of 18-25 because these people have just as much of a “probability” to commit crime as a person on drugs.You say, “But if there is no drug or alcohol prohibition, more people will use it.” Even if that is true, it doesn’t address the unjustness of it. Besides, its wrong anyway…—– 1914, when the first set of drug laws, the Harrison Anti-Narcotics Act, was passed, 1.3 percent of the US population was addicted to drugs. In 1970, when drug enforcement was intensified by President Nixon, 1.3 percent of the US population was addicted to drugs. Today, after roughly a trillion dollars has been spent on drug enforcement and 38 million arrests of non-violent drug “offenders” have been made, 1.3 percent of the US population is still addicted to drugs. Nothing, I repeat, nothing has been achieved so far as curbing drug abuse in the process of this war that has generated such exorbitant human and economic costs! Source: Cole, Jack. End Prohibition Now, p.9Do I use drugs or alcohol? No. Do I think others should? No. Do I wish that no one on earth would ruin their lives by using them? Yes. But I understand that people cannot exercise their moral agency through the forced compulsion of government. That was Satan’s plan. And I also understand how unjust it is. It also puts the government on a slippery slope toward tyrannical control of every facet of a persons life. You say, “But President Hinckley is a prophet!” I answer with the words of another prophet, Joseph Smith. “The Lord has not given me a revelation concerning politics.” This is the opinion of the prophet. The church should publicly advocate its opposition to vices. But using the government to outlaw them is another matter entirely.

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