Legislating morality

September 14, 2011

Part of my church calling is setting up the projectors and such for broadcasts, like the CES broadcast last Sunday. Elder Oaks spoke (transcript) on standing firm for truth while appropriately showing tolerance for those whose beliefs differ from ours. He listed four principles that should govern efforts toward involving the government in upholding standards, one of which was:

Third, believers should not be deterred by the familiar charge that they are trying to legislate morality.  Many areas of the law are based on Judeo/Christian morality and have been for centuries.  Our civilization is based on morality and cannot exist without it.  As John Adams declared, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The old canard about “legislating morality” is actually rather obtuse. What else can you legislate? Laws are nothing more or less than the implementation of our common, publicly agreed-upon morality. If laws based on traditional morality are out of line, why wouldn’t laws based on modern disdain for morality come under similar condemnation?

There is a truth behind the saying: morality is only effective when it lives in people’s hearts and minds, and that can’t be imposed by legislative fiat. Part of passing a law in a free society is (or should be) persuading a majority of the populace that the moral principles it embodies are correct. That doesn’t change the fact that in the end every law is about forcing someone’s idea of morality on everybody.