Legislation and morality are indivisible
I have lived long enough to remember several election cycles and the debates that have occurred with them. One of the great slogans that I have heard thrown out there in these debates is; You can’t legislate morality. For many years I partially believed this lie. It is true that no law can force all people to do the right thing nor can it make people “good”. That line of thinking, however, misses the point entirely.
Law and morality are indivisible. By its very nature, a law is crafted in morality of some sort. Someone who claims to craft morally neutral laws is not being intellectually honest. Micah Watson, William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Affairs at the James Madison Program at Princeton University and Director of the Center for Politics & Religion at Union University has written an essay on the subject entitled, “Why We Can’t Help But Legislate Morality,” in that essay Watson states:
To legislate, then, is to legislate morality. One can no more avoid legislating morality than one can speak without syntax. One cannot sever morality from the law. Even partisans of the most spartan libertarian conception of the state would themselves employ state power to enforce their vision of the common good. Given this understanding, the term “morals legislation” is, strictly speaking, redundant. The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is which vision of morality will be enforced and by what sort of government.
So the debate should not be whether a law is legislating morality but rather whose or what kind of morality is it legislating. This should give us much to consider as we filter through the legislative goings on of this next session of congress.
HT: Justin Taylor