Myth Debunking: “You Can’t Legislate Morality”

I recently finished watching Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” (I had DVR’d it). As with his “The Civil War” documentary, I found it compelling and excellent. I was pleasantly surprised when Burns admitted that it was progressives who brought about the insanity that was the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. That is, until the film took to discussing the aftermath of the 1929 Stock Market Crash near the end of the documentary (I don’t want to go into detail or further critique the film, but Burns perpetuated the Democrat meme that Hoover did nothing to resolve the worsening economic situation; in actuality, Hoover did too much of the wrong things, similar to Obama today). Anyway, during the wrap up at the end, many of the people who had been in the documentary mentioned how morality couldn’t be legislated or regulated. Unfortunately, this is still peddled today; fortunately, it is easily debunked. And at the same time, there are many, those in the camp that say morality can’t be legislated, defining new morals and pushing for legislation to support their new morals.

For most Christians, Jews, and Muslims (yes, it’s true), morality is defined by God, codified in the 10 Commandments. I’ve no doubt the other major religions preach something similar. There are a gazillion laws that support this morality found in a portion of the Commandments, namely murder, theft, libel, and slander. Michigan’s law code still classifies adultery as a felony. Even atheists and agnostics consider most if not all of the above acts as immoral, although I would suggest they had to learn it from someone who learned it from someone who learned it from someone who believed in God and His role in defining morality. So to believe “you can’t legislate morality” is ridiculous on its face.

What is difficult to legislate are certain acts some people consider immoral and others don’t. In the case of Prohibition, there were all kinds of people concerned about the effects of alcohol abuse on families and public safety. But instead of addressing the abuse, progressives went a step further and determined the use of alcohol was immoral and succeeded in getting Prohibition passed via the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Of course, most people didn’t abuse alcohol, nor was there a pandemic of alcohol-related activities, criminal or civil, that justified the passage of such an amendment to the Constitution. Throughout Prohibition, people found extremely inventive ways to break the law. And as people saw this expansion of lawlessness, there were calls to stop the government-induced hypocrisy. Most Americans had never considered the use of alcohol as immoral and found it ridiculous for the federal government to continue maintaining and enforcing this law.

Yet today, there are still people who still adhere to the “you can’t legislate morality” myth even as they work on legislating morality. Their morality. And that’s the rub. Worse, they haven’t learned the lessons of Prohibition. We’ve seen this repeatedly in new laws legislating against free speech (ie., hate crime laws, abortion protests, campaign financing), legislating against the legal ownership of firearms, legislating against equal protection (ie., quotas, affirmative action), legislating against carbon use, legislating against legal tobacco use (while needing tobacco users to pay for government health care programs for children), legislating against the free market, legislating against wealth, legislating against food, and so on and so forth. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted by the various levels of government every year in enforcing such legislation, only to find out the American people remain extremely inventive, just as they were during Prohibition, to work around the law.

One of the worst examples of the new “morality” that I deal with personally has to do with the monster Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). This monumental boondoggle, which has led to billions of dollars of lost private sector productivity of publicly held corporations, came out of the Enron and WorldCom financial implosions. Executives at both companies were found to have cooked their financial statements; the finances and livelihood of thousands of workers at these companies were greatly harmed. Although many of the executives were convicted of various crimes even before SOX was passed, the government decided to punish every corporation. And yet, SOX did nothing to prevent the massive implosion of the banks that began in 2008, which was caused by other government policies. To come to the point, there are laws to punish theft; but as with most laws, it is impossible to completely prevent it. Punishing those who hadn’t broken the law, as was the case with Prohibition, leads to a great many unintended consequences. And now the government has worsened the situation with the passage of Dodd-Frank. The lesson of Prohibition continues to be ignored.

This is also true when it comes to the new “morality” regarding abortion. Pro-abortion fanatics have declared as immoral, declared blame on, a child developing in the womb of an unwanted pregnancy, and any restriction against abortion as an attack on the “morality” of choice, sanctioned by the travesty that is Roe v. Wade. First, these fanatics have been lying about Roe. Abortion didn’t become legal after the ruling since there were states passing laws allowing for them to occur in a restricted manner; second, the fanatics have claimed that if Roe was overturned, abortion would then be illegal, which is a bald-faced lie. The worst of this new “morality” (that is public knowledge) has to be the case of Kermit Gosnell and how for years public officials in Pennsylvania completely ignored the state’s laws and regulations regarding the inspection of abortion clinics, all in the name of maintaining “access” to these facilities for women seeking to get abortions. Fortunately, the horrors of abortion are coming out, allowing legislators in different states pass laws further restricting abortion which may not run afoul of Roe.

Another new “morality” is taking shape, that of so-called “marriage equality” where two people of the same sex can be considered married. Now, I agree with Justice Thomas in his dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that the law criminalizing sodomy was stupid, as would any law criminalizing any completely private sex acts by consenting adults. What was ridiculous about Lawrence was Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion that stated overturning the Texas law would not lead to the slippery slope of a newly created right saying the right to gay marriage was guaranteed under the Constitution. Scalia’s dissent vehemently chastised the majority for this; around the time the Lawrence ruling came out, the slippery slope came true when the Massachusetts Supreme Court said the state must recognize as a marriage the relationship between two people of the same sex. A consequence of this convinced a major Catholic adoption agency, one that had a good record, to end its services because it was probable the state would deny the agency a state-required operating license for discriminating against same-sex “married” couples by not allowing those couples from adopting kids in the agency’s care (interestingly, the agency did allow some same-sex couples to adopt these kids, in violation of Church law; the Church put a stop to it). No lawmaker in Massachusetts, not even then-Gov. Mitt Romney, stood up for the Church to get a religious exemption that would require the state to adhere to the Free Exercise (of religion) Clause. And instead of embarking on an expensive venture in the courts because it was possible activist judges would ignore the Constitution and rule against the Church, the agency decided to close up shop. Since then, other state courts have claimed there is a right for same-sex couples to be considered “married”, and a couple of states have passed laws recognizing this kind of “marriage”. Even here, there is pressure being put upon states to reassign or fire civil servants who work with marriage licenses but won’t sign such a license for a same-sex couple on religious grounds (it’s similar to states pressuring pharmacists who are against abortion to supply the abortion drug RU-486). The slippery slope Justice Kennedy (in Lawrence) said didn’t exist went into effect immediately and has gotten worse. There’s no doubt there will be attempts to push “marriage equality” even further, with judges allowing it to occur by illegally rewriting the Constitution. And the people who are for “marriage equality” and adhere to the “you can’t legislate morality” myth are doing everything they can to legislate their new “morality”.

There are many “marriage equality” supporters who like to say something akin to “same-sex marriage doesn’t threaten traditional marriages.” It’s obvious this is just another myth since the threat is real. And from my own personal point of view, there’s no law requiring me, personally, to accept “marriage equality”.

Cross-posted at Scipio the Metalcon.