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Government should not legislate morality

 
 
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 10:06 am
Resolved: Government should not legislate morality.

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Helpful Links:
"The statement, 'You can't legislate morality,' is a dangerous half-truth and even a lie, because all legislation is concerned with morality. Every law on the statute books of every civil government is either an example of enacted morality or it is procedural thereto."
Can We Legislate Morality?

"...can you legislate morality? Of course you can. Our laws legislate morality every day. The question is not if morality can be legislated but whose morality will be legislated?"
You Can't Legislate Morality. Or Can You?

"...the government's function is not to become the thought police, charged with ensuring that citizens act on correct ideas. The government's function is only to stop an individual from taking action (e.g., murder) that violates the rights of other individuals. It means that the absolute moral principles at the foundation of a free society preclude the government from becoming policeman of morality."
Thought Control: Government Should Not Have the Power to Legislate Morality

"I feel we have no right to legislate morality. After all, a person's concept of morality is dependent upon their own moral and religious beliefs and the United States was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty for all, regardless of religion."
Don't Legislate Morality
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 5,666 • Replies: 44
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 10:23 am
Of course we can legislate morality. We do it every single day and there really isn't much choice in the matter.

This is from your 3rd link:
Quote:
Our Founding Fathers understood that, like any other form of knowledge, moral knowledge--knowledge of good and evil--requires a mind free to follow the observed facts and evidence wherever they lead. They therefore created a political system that protects the sovereignty of the rational mind--the very source of rights. Our Founding Fathers understood that, like any other form of knowledge, moral knowledge--knowledge of good and evil--requires a mind free to follow the observed facts and evidence wherever they lead. They therefore created a political system that protects the sovereignty of the rational mind--the very source of rights. Each American has the right to think, to express his thoughts in conversations, speeches and books, and then to act on his thought in pursuit of the values his life and happiness require. (So long, of course, as he respects the same rights of others.) He must have these freedoms because knowledge comes not from obedience to authority but from reason.


"Each American has the right to think, to express his thoughts in conversations, speeches and books, and then to act on his thought in pursuit of the values his life and happiness require. (So long, of course, as he respects the same rights of others.)"

I just found this line ironic in that it comes from an article claiming morailty can't be legislated. The author says we each have rights and as long as we don't infinge on someone else'd rights the government has no business regulating our activities. Isn't that in itself a moral position that has basicaly been enshrined in law?

How did those Founding Fathers the author espouses create this political system he praises? Didn't they do that by creating laws (including the Constitution) based on their morals??
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 02:26 pm
truth
Government legislates statutes at definite times; cultures usually create morals over indefinite periods of time. In government the statutes apply universally (within a society). In culture there is usually (except for the smallest and most simple societies) a diversity of moral communities. If my definitions are valid, morality cannot be "legislated" but some morals can be given the strength of law. While our Judaic decalog proscribes bearing false witness, there is no civil law against lying in most of its instances, but it is illegal to lie under oath and in some commercial contexts.
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 04:30 pm
Re: Government should not legislate morality
joefromchicago wrote:
Resolved: Government should not legislate morality.


Agreed. Government should not legislate morality.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 08:40 pm
fishin' wrote:
I just found this line ironic in that it comes from an article claiming morailty can't be legislated. The author says we each have rights and as long as we don't infinge on someone else'd rights the government has no business regulating our activities. Isn't that in itself a moral position that has basicaly been enshrined in law?

If we take "respect for others' rights" to be a moral precept, then clearly the answer is "yes." But then I'm not so sure that it's a moral precept. A utilitarian, for instance, might say that it's simply a prudential consideration.

fishin' wrote:
How did those Founding Fathers the author espouses create this political system he praises? Didn't they do that by creating laws (including the Constitution) based on their morals??

I can't quite put my finger on the morality embedded in the Constitution. Can you find it, fishin'? Perhaps it's in the contracts clause?

Let me offer a hypothetical: suppose a society unanimously endorses the principal of "honor thy father and thy mother" as a moral precept. The legislature in that society then passes two laws:
Law 1: Making if a criminal offense to disobey one's parents.
Law 2: Offering tax incentives to children who financially support their parents.
Now, do either of these laws "legislate morality?"
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 08:45 pm
Re: truth
JLNobody wrote:
Government legislates statutes at definite times; cultures usually create morals over indefinite periods of time. In government the statutes apply universally (within a society). In culture there is usually (except for the smallest and most simple societies) a diversity of moral communities. If my definitions are valid, morality cannot be "legislated" but some morals can be given the strength of law. While our Judaic decalog proscribes bearing false witness, there is no civil law against lying in most of its instances, but it is illegal to lie under oath and in some commercial contexts.

Excellent observations, JLN. The question, however, wasn't whether societies can legislate morality, but whether they should.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 09:03 pm
joefromchicago wrote:
I can't quite put my finger on the morality embedded in the Constitution. Can you find it, fishin'? Perhaps it's in the contracts clause?


One could argue that the Constitution creates a system of Democracy which is morally better (or worse depending on you view!) than other systems of government. While amendments point toward moral issues more directly the basic document doesn't. In it's entirety however, the basic document was intended to create a moral system of government.

Quote:
Let me offer a hypothetical: suppose a society unanimously endorses the principal of "honor thy father and thy mother" as a moral precept. The legislature in that society then passes two laws:
Law 1: Making if a criminal offense to disobey one's parents.
Law 2: Offering tax incentives to children who financially support their parents.
Now, do either of these laws "legislate morality?"


On their face they would appear to. (Assuming "honor" includes the concepts of obeying and supporting should they need it.)
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Tue 27 Apr, 2004 09:09 pm
It seems to me that a definition of "morality" is in order. Before we can decide on whether or not a government (any government) should legislate morality, we must know what it is that is "moral." For the Christian and the Jew, for example, monogamy is given lip-service, at least, as a moral state which involves the concept of "forsaking all others." So we enact marriage laws which make bigamy or polygamy an offense against the moral order. How do we reconcile this with the Muslim (or Mormon, for that matter) sense of what is and is not moral? Ernest Hemingway wrote, "What is moral is whatever I feel good after; what is immoral is whatever I feel bad after." (Probably not an exact quote; quoted from memory.) Well, then, if you feel good after raping and strangling someone, you are a moral person, no?

Who decides what constitutes "morality"?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 08:28 am
Merry Andrew wrote:
It seems to me that a definition of "morality" is in order.

"Morality," at heart, involves the distinction between "right" and "wrong." For a more thorough examination of the topic, look here.

Merry Andrew wrote:
Who decides what constitutes "morality"?

Take a look at the first two links in my initial post above. In the second, we find out one possible answer:
    "Admittedly, we can't force anyone to acknowledge God or willingly obey Him, But like it or not, they either have to accept God's ideas about what's right and wrong or pay the consequences. We've just said that biblical morality-no lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, etc-is good for society, and we should be pleased that our forefathers had enough sense to translate these godly principles into law. Those principles work well for everybody, because they reflect what is true about human nature."
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 08:36 am
fishin' wrote:
One could argue that the Constitution creates a system of Democracy which is morally better (or worse depending on you view!) than other systems of government. While amendments point toward moral issues more directly the basic document doesn't. In it's entirety however, the basic document was intended to create a moral system of government.

I think it's largely true that the founders believed republics were morally superior to other forms of government. But if they were legislating morality, they were doing it indirectly.

The amendments, however, are a different story. I suppose there are two, in particular, that can be said to "legislate morality:" the thirteenth (abolishing slavery) and the eighteenth (instituting prohibition). So the question: were those proper exercises of governmental power?

fishin' wrote:
Quote:
Now, do either of these laws "legislate morality?"


On their face they would appear to. (Assuming "honor" includes the concepts of obeying and supporting should they need it.)

Yes, I think we can safely assume that.

But are laws that punish immorality in the same category as laws that reward morality? In other words, is it "legislating morality" when the legislature simply seeks to encourage, through a system of incentives, behavior it considers to be moral?
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 09:40 am
joefromchicago wrote:
The amendments, however, are a different story. I suppose there are two, in particular, that can be said to "legislate morality:" the thirteenth (abolishing slavery) and the eighteenth (instituting prohibition). So the question: were those proper exercises of governmental power?


I'd include the 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 21st, 24th and 27th Amendments to the list but again, those are indirect instead of direct issues of morality. Was it proper to legislate them? Yeah, I think so.

Quote:
But are laws that punish immorality in the same category as laws that reward morality? In other words, is it "legislating morality" when the legislature simply seeks to encourage, through a system of incentives, behavior it considers to be moral?


I'd say it's still "legislating morality". Now, I'm using the term "legislating" to mean the act of deliberation of an issue by a law making body here. IMO, a proposal that encourages people to act in a moral way is much easier to gain concensus on than one that prohibits an immoral activity but either way the issue is still "legislated". The two you listed differ greatly in approach (rewards vs. punishment) so they are in different categories in that respect.
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Acquiunk
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 09:53 am
Government makes a moral decision every time it legislates. It could not function without doing so, The question is not should should government "legislate morality" but what are the boundaries of it's reach. Are their areas in which the government should make no intrusion but leave it up to individual decision. Traditionally religion has been one such area, but not completely. For example polygny, and animal and human sacrifice have not been tolerated since the 19th century although each was practiced by some groups within the legal jurisdiction of the US at one time or the other and justified on religious grounds.
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JoanneDorel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 09:57 am
We are the government and the government legislates our own bias.
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Heliotrope
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 03:58 pm
Re: Government should not legislate morality
joefromchicago wrote:
Resolved: Government should not legislate morality.

Why ?
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 04:09 pm
Re: Government should not legislate morality
Heliotrope wrote:
joefromchicago wrote:
Resolved: Government should not legislate morality.


Why ?


Because it's immoral to legislate morality (other than where necessary to protect other people's rights).

What you do in your own home with your own body is your own business (just don't ask me about potential suicide because I haven't thought this through that far yet) Smile
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 05:17 pm
Re: Government should not legislate morality
rosborne979 wrote:
What you do in your own home with your own body is your own business (just don't ask me about potential suicide because I haven't thought this through that far yet) Smile


What about beyond "in your own home with your own body"? I know I'd have some issues with a guy in the apartment below me storing a few thousand pounds of TNT in his spare bedroom. While he may not be infringing on any of my rights at the moment he creates a significant risk to my well being in the long run.

"Morality" extends beyond the individual and their living space as isolated entities. The resolution as posted doesn't make any distinction between the two so it should be presumed to cover all possible scenarios.
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JoanneDorel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 07:55 pm
JoanneDorel posted
Quote:
We are the government and the government legislates our own bias.


We are they - we are responsible for our government. If we wnat different results we have to take action - participate in our government. The legislative bodies of this country are a reflection of us as the people.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 07:57 pm
truth
Yes, society SHOULD not legislate morality. Since morals, like values, almost always vary across individuals and subgroups in complex societies, to give the strength of law to morals that not all people share is very undesirable and potentially repressive.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 08:02 pm
JoanneDorel wrote:
We are they - we are responsible for our government. If we wnat different results we have to take action - participate in our government. The legislative bodies of this country are a reflection of us as the people.


Indeed we are. In a way this touches on my earlier reply to joefromchicago's question about different categories and the carrot/stick approaches. And as a reflection, I don't see any possibility of removing moral issues from being legislated.
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Wed 28 Apr, 2004 09:41 pm
Re: Government should not legislate morality
fishin' wrote:
What about beyond "in your own home with your own body"? I know I'd have some issues with a guy in the apartment below me storing a few thousand pounds of TNT in his spare bedroom.


Yeh, that's why I added this part:

rosborne979 wrote:
(other than where necessary to protect other people's rights).


And I guess I was implying "rights and safety", not just "rights".

A person's freedom to do what they want extends only as far as another person's rights. The dividing line can get hazy at times, but it's always a balance between the two.
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