October 17th, 2006

Legislating Morality

Last week somebody posted on Sustain’d a link to an article titled “Rights, Wrong, and the Law”. The article discusses the subject of legislating morality.

One of the oddest, most harmful political beliefs to emerge in the past 50 years is the notion that one cannot legislate morality. What utter nonsense. Man has always legislated morality. Sir William Blackstone, the central legal mind the post-1787 U.S. courts looked to for guidance wrote, “The primary and principle objects of the law are RIGHTS and WRONGS.” That’s clear enough.

I agree. With the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion being so prevalent in the MSM and in our legislative and judicial systems I often hear people say something to the tune of “The government shouldn’t tell me what to do inside my bedroom.” Well, if they can tell you what you can’t do inside your car, office, kitchen, or classroom, why is the proverbial bedroom any different? Some things are right, and some things are wrong—regardless of where they take place.

We make laws because we believe that some things are right and other things are wrong, that wrongs left unchecked hurt individuals, families, neighbors, communities, nations — or else: the environment, the economy, and so forth.

The author then defines morality:

Observe [J.J. Bulamquie’s] definition of morality: “Law being the rule of human actions, in a comparative view we observe that [human actions] are either conformable or opposite to the [law]; and this sort of qualification is called morality.”

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary was also in agreement. Defining morality it noted: “We often apply the word to actions which accord with justice and human laws.”

Simply: morality and the law — in the founding era — well understood as solidly linked.

Indeed, morality and the law were often intertwined in the early days of our nation. Has this understanding changed? I submit that it has. In our day we see a staggering amount of moral relativism jading most of our decisions, policies, and actions. Lobbyists and liberals seek to dichotomize law and morality, when in fact the survival and integrity of our nation depends on their union.

Three quarters of a century later, President Theodore Roosevelt so perfectly understood the fixed nature of this link, he reminded judges that they have a duty to “unhesitatingly disregard even the wishes of the people if they conflict with the eternal principles of right as against wrong. [A judge] must serve the people; but he must serve his own conscience first. All honor to such a judge.”

King Mosiah had something similar to say to the judges in his day:

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law-to do your business by the voice of the people.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:26)

Interesting how similar their counsel was. Basically, it becomes each of us as citizens to uphold that which is right and moral to prevent the judgments of God from coming upon us. We must choose the right (ring a bell?) and stand up for what is morally correct. As the article mentions, Ronald Reagan agreed:

“Right and wrong matters. We must understand that basic moral principles lie at the heart of our criminal justice system, that our system of law acts as the collective moral voice of society. There’s nothing wrong with these values. nor should we be hesitant or feel guilty about [punishing] those who violate the elementary rules of civilized existence. Theft is not a form of political or cultural expression; it is theft, and it is wrong. Murder is not forbidden as a matter of subjective opinion; it is objectively evil, and we must prohibit it.”

He continues, “But it has occurred to me that the root causes of our other major domestic problem, the growth of government and the decay of the economy, can be traced to many of the same sources of the crime problem,” that is, “a tendency to downplay permanent moral values.”

Basically, President Reagan is arguing that government growth occurs because of the moral decay of its citizens. While I would argue that there are several other contributing factors, this sure is one of them.

Perhaps the highlight of the article is the quote near the end from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“I suppose persons who mouth the slogan [‘Don’t legislate morality’] think they are saying something profound. In fact, if that is an argument at all, it is so superficial that an educated person should be ashamed to use it. As should be evident to every thinking person, a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base. That is true of all the criminal law, most of the laws regulating family relations, businesses, and commercial transactions, many of the laws governing property, and a host of others.”

So yes, we legislate morality. Simply because one might disagaree with such legislation does not necessiate altering the law to work in their favor and give them the “rights” they desire.

24 Responses to “Legislating Morality”

  1. John
    October 17, 2006 at 1:35 pm #

    So where do you draw the line between not “mingling religious influence with civil government” and legislating morality?

    And whose morality do we legislate?

    I think that we can always legislate unalienable rights, but it gets harder to draw lines once you get into specifics. I think that fighting for just and holy principles is good, but I’m not sure where that sometimes becomes a crusade against others agency.

  2. Dan
    October 17, 2006 at 3:50 pm #

    Connor,

    how do you reconcile the above with what Joseph Smith said when he said: “Teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves.” At what point does society still control our actions?

    Furthermore, conservatives tend to, when discussing legislating morality, avoid any talk of legislating business (the whole capitalism shpiel). But businesses are in the, well, business of morality as well. Tobacco companies create a product that is against the Word of Wisdom. The pornography industry seeks to destroy the inner soul of every human being. Where does legislation against business fit in with this philosophy? Furthermore, how does this fit in with conservative principles of small government? It would seem that all this legislation of morality both individual and institutional/corporate would require quite a large government.

  3. Connor
    October 17, 2006 at 6:37 pm #

    John,

    So where do you draw the line between not “mingling religious influence with civil government” and legislating morality?

    First, I think it is important to understand the context of the scripture you sited. In the Institute Manual, the historical background is as follows:

    A general assembly of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held at Kirtland, Ohio, on 17 August 1835 to formally accept the collection of revelations to be published as the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. After the priesthood quorums and then the congregation unanimously accepted the revelations, “Elder William W. Phelps arose and read an article prepared by Oliver Cowdery, on marriage. This was on vote ordered to be published also in the volume with the revelations. Then President Oliver Cowdery arose and read an article, ‘Of Governments and Laws in General,’ and this likewise was ordered by vote to be published with the book of revelations. Neither of these articles was a revelation to the Church.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:30.)

    “It should be noted that in the minutes, and also in the introduction to this article on government, the brethren were careful to state that this declaration was accepted as the belief, or ‘opinion’ of the officers of the Church, and not as a revelation, and therefore does not hold the same place in the doctrines of the Church as do the revelations.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 852.)

    While I could try to argue the case that this section is merely an outline of early Church leaders’ opinions we have canonized it, thus classifying its contents as doctrine of the Church. So where does that leave us?

    Well, “separation of church and state” is an important principle. The LDS church (or any other church) should have no official say in government matters, and vice versa. But does that mean that we can’t have influence? Does that mean that we should not try to fight for the beliefs we hold to be true? Isn’t that the point of politics—to lobby and vote for legislation that you think is ideal for you and others?

    Dave posted earlier this year about a related article. The second paragraph illustrates what I’ve argued several times before: in our founding documents there is no such thing as “separation of church and state”. This term, coined by Jefferson, found its origins in Jefferson’s personal correspondence, and did not become a widespread notion for almost a century later.

    People who dislike conservative Christians promoting their own agendas are hypocrites that need to understand that they’re doing the same thing. If such a person is for same-sex marriage, good for them! But don’t go crying foul play when an LDS person wants to ban such a practice. In a democractic system (which is actually a Republic) each person has the right to lobby and vote for such legislation that they think is best. If such legislation is concerning a moral principle, and happens to be in line with religious beliefs they profess, so what?

    And whose morality do we legislate?

    God’s.

    Dan,

    How do you reconcile the above with what Joseph Smith said when he said: “Teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves.” At what point does society still control our actions?

    Brother Brigham further elaborated on such a statement when he said “I say, let them govern themselves by a Republican system of government”. Joseph was not implying self-rule. To be sure, there were countless instances of people being brought before the councils of church government to make such accusations as theft, slander, libel, and disruption. There was a system established to maintain order and execute judgment, even though Joseph had taught correct principles so that people could “govern themselves”. This draws back to the 2nd Nephi system of acting or being acted upon. If we obey established law, we are free to act. If we disobey, we will be acted upon by those responsible for discipline and enforcement of the law. Additionally, Joseph meant what he said regarding “correct principles”. Such principles were in accordance with what God would label as “morality”.

    Furthermore, conservatives tend to, when discussing legislating morality, avoid any talk of legislating business (the whole capitalism shpiel).

    Welcome to our free-enterprise capitalist nation. I much prefer Joseph’s method of handling such filth: destroy and subdue. That’s the approach he took with suppressing the libelous printing press in Nauvoo. Ultimately such an action resulted in his death, but the approach taken was one I would prefer, though our laws don’t exactly permit it. And since we’re not allowed to root out such garbage, the best we can do is not patronize them. Local government, where the bulk of civic authority should reside, has the ability to reject such businesses. My mother tells a great story about a boy in our ward, barely 12 years old, who stood up in a City Council meeting where an “adult entertainment” shop was trying to get permission to enter the city. The arguments had been persuasive, and the council was about to approve their request. The boy rose up and reprimanded the council for allowing such a business into our nice city, especially where he and his siblings walked by coming home from school each day. Stunned, the council unanimously voted against the business.

  4. Robert
    October 17, 2006 at 8:28 pm #

    Well, I am opposed to legislating morality. It doesn’t work. Frankly, what 2 consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes does not bother me. Also, I think it’s important that all people enjoy the same protections under the constitution, even if we disagree with their lifestyle. I remember a time when cops spent their times rounding up patrons at gay bars and when it was legal to discriminate against homosexuals in employment. I never want to return to those times.

    There’s a difference between legalizing gay marriage and persecution of gay people. I belong to a liberal christian church that has seen the struggle for gay rights as its struggle. Consequently, many gay and lesbian people have found refuge in my denomination. However, that struggle came with a high price. It divided the church. But those who advocate for gay marriage see the struggle as an attempt to welcome all God’s children into full membership. We agree to disagree, but do agree that bigotry and hatred have no place at the altar.

    In the end, we all stand before the throne of God and are all answerable for our lives. I’ve seen so many trivialize the final judgement as a time when ALL are rewarded, and there are no negative consequences for our lives on earth.

  5. John Anderson
    October 17, 2006 at 9:52 pm #

    In a democractic system (which is actually a Republic) each person has the right to lobby and vote for such legislation that they think is best.

    That doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. If you’re trying to force your beliefs on others, however good they may be (remember the war in heaven) its always a bad idea. Article of Faith #11 will back me up in the same way.

    There’s also a huge difference between being against homosexual behavior, and being for banning the practice by law. I’m against homosexual “marriage” (as far as legislation goes) only because it dilutes the term marriage. I think it isn’t right to police what goes on in people’s bedrooms, especially since I dont want people policing what goes on in mine.

    You can’t legislate morality. First, it’s immoral (because you are attempting to force your beliefs on others), and secondly, its impossible to enforce.

    Once you’re policing sexual behavior, what’s next?

    I wouldn’t want it even if it was possible, because the whole point of living life is to become a good person on our own. If you try to police good behavior, nothing good can come of it.

  6. Connor
    October 17, 2006 at 9:59 pm #

    That doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. If you’re trying to force your beliefs on others, however good they may be (remember the war in heaven) its always a bad idea.

    But it’s not force. It’s the democratic process. We each get to vote however we want. I base my vote on my religiously-backed moral opinion, as would an atheist liberal base his vote on his secularist opinion. Nobody is forcing anything – it’s each of us taking part in the democratic process to voice our opinion and lobby for what we think is best.

    You can’t legislate morality.

    So people should be able to copulate in the park? Sell pornography to children? Gratify themselves in public bathrooms? Murder a misbehaving child? Of course we can legislate morality. It’s just like Elder Oaks said: “…a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base”.

    Once you’re policing sexual behavior, what’s next?

    There has to be some sort of policing of such behavior, otherwise the examples I mentioned above would be free game.

    …the whole point of living life is to become a good person on our own.

    Right, and the whole point of God’s commandments is to learn to become like Him. But when we break the commandments, there is a punishment affixed. It’s the two edged sword. We can’t chalk up crimes and atrocious moral sins to “oh, he’s just learning how to live life.. he’ll be a good person eventually!”

  7. fontor
    October 17, 2006 at 10:27 pm #

    You seem to be saying two things, Connor.

    in comment 6, you say that people in a society should be able to decide what the society’s laws are. Not a very controversial statement, really; how else would it be done?

    The second point, though, is more problematic. You seem to be saying that the law should punish acts that are immoral. That’s the problem. Just because something is morally wrong, it does not follow that it should be legally wrong.

    I’m a vegetarian, and I think it’s morally wrong to eat meat under normal day-to-day conditions. But I don’t think it should be illegal. You know why? Cause I could be wrong. A possibility that apparently doesn’t occur to people with profound moral clarity.

    To make it worse, you say that this would work according to ‘God’s morality’, which everyone has an different interpretation of. I can’t even imagine how you would implement that, it’s so hopelessly tangled. If you don’t want to live under Shari’a law, you need to accept that you won’t get to make everyone else live your moral law. Otherwise you’re saying that everyone gets to live by the dictates of your conscience.

    Fortunately, there’s a tendency in law-making where the tendency to maintain social order is balanced by the idea that it’s good for people to pursue happiness in their own way. That way, only the most obvious immoral acts become illegal.

    Legislating lesser cases of morality puts that balance out. It’s religious tyranny, and it has no place in a pluralistic democracy like the USA.

  8. Connor
    October 17, 2006 at 10:40 pm #

    Just because something is morally wrong, it does not follow that it should be legally wrong.

    Here we get into the differences (and similarities) between malum en se and malum prohibitum. Things that are malum en se are naturally understood to be bad—murder, rape, incest, those kind of things. Acts that are malum prohibitum aren’t inherently evil, but are prohitibed law—speeding, jaywalking, or truancy.

    So the vox populi is what determines the laws affixed to both types of “bad”. We legislate morality (malum en se) as well as things that have no moral component.

    To make it worse, you say that this would work according to ‘God’s morality’, which everyone has an different interpretation of.

    Hence the problem. :) Everybody has different opinions and interpretations. I speak pretty boldly on my blog, because these are my opinions and beliefs. I, too, may be wrong (though I’m not!). :) But in our democratic system, we all get together thinking we each know what’s best, and then vote it out. Majority rules.

    If you don’t want to live under Shari’a law, you need to accept that you won’t get to make everyone else live your moral law. Otherwise you’re saying that everyone gets to live by the dictates of your conscience.

    As long as my beliefs are held by the majority of Americans, this is accurate. If I’m in the minority, however, then I either have to obey the laws established by the minority or leave the country (so is that why you moved to Australia? :)).

  9. fontor
    October 17, 2006 at 11:14 pm #

    But in our democratic system, we all get together thinking we each know what’s best, and then vote it out. Majority rules.

    Well, I doubt that you’d be okay with shari’a law if it did become the majority view. You might prefer to be left alone. Ask yourself: if the majority of Americans were Evangelical Christians, would it be all right for them to outlaw the LDS Church?

    The question I see here is: To what extent does the minority have to do what the majority says?

    Well, they have to obey the laws. But we purposely make the laws as permissive as possible and leave people alone if they’re not doing anything obviously harmful.

    We don’t have societies so that the strong can get what they want. That always happens. We have societies so that even people in tiny minorities (like Latter-day Saints) can have the freedom to do pretty much what they want, free from the tyranny of the majority.

    And this is actually good for society. Sometimes minorities get things right, and their innovations should get the chance to propagate throughout society, even if some of us may not like them at first. We can choose them if we like them. It’s as American as apple pie.

    How did I end up in Australia, anyway?

  10. Connor
    October 17, 2006 at 11:21 pm #

    Ask yourself: if the majority of Americans were Evangelical Christians, would it be all right for them to outlaw the LDS Church?

    Nobody is suggesting banning a religious entity entirely. But if a majority drafted legislation that opposed one’s religious views (polygamy ring a bell, anybody?), then that group of people would have to obey. Again, the majority rules. Some might not like it, but it’s what we’ve got.

    But we purposely make the laws as permissive as possible and leave people alone if they’re not doing anything obviously harmful.

    In an ideal world, yes. But have you ever read a piece of legislation? Any bill on any topic is bound to be a tome in size, micromanaging every possibility down to the T. We’ve got laws, taxes, and policies for everything under the sun…

    We don’t have societies so that the strong can get what they want.

    Tell that to Bush and his neocon buddies.

    We have societies so that even people in tiny minorities (like Latter-day Saints) can have the freedom to do pretty much what they want, free from the tyranny of the majority.

    Are you, then, in favor of repealing the legislation banning polygamy (since you used LDS as an example)? I highly doubt the Church would reinstitute such a practice if the law was axed, but the Church suffered from the “tyranny of the majority” in almost every way possible during the mid 1800’s—so much so that they were forced to flee and establish their own society. How’s that for letting the “strong get what they want”?

  11. fontor
    October 17, 2006 at 11:44 pm #

    Perhaps a misunderstanding has occurred.

    I’m not saying there have never been abuses. I’m saying these are abuses. And they’re good examples. The Missourians were in fact trying to legislate morality.

    I’d be for letting polygamists have their vision of society (even though I can’t stand polygamy), if such a society didn’t run counter to the best interests of society as a whole and even to those of the polygamists themselves. I think this might be the case, though. I’d need to check if the rumoured ‘dumping’ of young males is an urban legend or not. Another strike against it would be the marrying of 16 year old children.

    Cases do get messy once you leave the abstract, eh.

  12. fontor
    October 18, 2006 at 1:00 am #

    (after thinking through more carefully)

    But it’s the neglect and the child marriage I’d be wanting to punish; not the polygamy per se.

    Also, the Extermination Order was Illinois, wasn’t it? not Missouri.

    I think we might agree on parts of this issue; we’d both hate to see the state become tyrannical in promoting the well-being of the majority. But this is what happens when we draw the line between legal and moral too close to the moral side. That line isn’t always clear, which is why good people with differing moral codes will disagree. In all cases though, we should err on the side of tolerance.

  13. Dan
    October 18, 2006 at 5:13 am #

    Connor,

    #6:

    But it’s not force. It’s the democratic process. We each get to vote however we want.

    It is still the tyranny of the majority.

  14. John
    October 18, 2006 at 9:06 am #

    But it’s not force. It’s the democratic process.

    But the democratic process has duty to protect the minority. And it is force, because legislation is policed. What if your neighbors got together and decided they all thought it best if they burned your apartment down for the block party on Saturday?

    So people should be able to copulate in the park? Sell pornography to children? Gratify themselves in public bathrooms? Murder a misbehaving child? Of course we can legislate morality. It’s just like Elder Oaks said: “…a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base”.

    You’ve shifted the point. I’m not talking about sin that does obvious damage to others. The point of government is to level the playing field, not give the bigger bloc the punishment stick.

    The morality the founding fathers legislated (and probably what Elder Oaks is talking about) was *equity*, not *virtue*. One of the main reasons we have a country today is because people were tired of misguided or evil rulers forcing their own flavor of virtue.

    Should we outlaw speaking badly of the church and its leaders? That is obviously against commandments and temple covenants… do you think we should put that into law? I don’t think so – it violates the basic human right of free speech.

    Right, and the whole point of God’s commandments is to learn to become like Him. But when we break the commandments, there is a punishment affixed. It’s the two edged sword. We can’t chalk up crimes and atrocious moral sins to “oh, he’s just learning how to live life.. he’ll be a good person eventually!”

    Yeah, and God is the one to deal out that punishment, not the misguided and imperfect judgements of men. Besides, God himself doesn’t police this stuff right now, so I don’t see why the governments of men can.

  15. Royal
    October 16, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    According to God’s law i am justified in using force to protect my life, liberty and property. This is evident in natural law. I’m not so convinced that I am justified in using force (man made law) to coerce others to be moral. Contract enforcement is ok so adultery would be a violation of a marriage contract, but where there is no contract and hence no fraud I would not dare to wander. Royal

  16. Connor
    October 16, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Contract enforcement is ok so adultery would be a violation of a marriage contract, but where there is no contract and hence no fraud I would not dare to wander.

    I think the waters become muddied when you consider that laws passed in our representative system of government are a form of contract—a “social contract”, to bring Locke in—and thus the terms of agreement and understanding upon which a certain law is created give justification for enforcement against its violation.

    Put simply, though every single individual does not sign each law on the dotted line, by participation in our representative system of government we are giving consent to the laws passed, and thus are indirectly contractually bound to obey them.

  17. Royal
    October 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    I reject the notion that I am indirectly contratually bound to obey any man made law. An “indirect contract” seems somewhat of a conumdrum all by itself. I’ll try and post on that page when I have time.

    I apologize that my adultery comment was confusing. I was refering to Alma 30:10. Adultery could have been wrong according to Nephi law because it was a contractual agreement according to Mosaic law which they lived under. I’ve had this conversation several times and I got ahead of myself. Ignore this comment for now.

    Back to legislating morality, Hugh Nibley wrote a paper explaining the the “Ancient Law of Liberty”.

    http://www.farmsnewsite.farmsresearch.com/publications/books/?bookid=54&chapid=506

    “The ancient law of liberty is that God trusts men while on this earth to make their own choices, while they trust him alone to judge whether those choices have been good or bad.”

    “Every man will be judged by God in the proper time and place. Meantime he must be free, perfectly free, to choose his own way.”

    By your own admonition we must “choose the right”. Remember, this is a radically different from “legislate the right”.
    It is true that all good laws are moral. Never-the-less is is not true that all morals should be laws. Anything that prohibits man from being perfectly free to “choose his own way” for the good or bad cannot and should not be law.

    In 1862 Ab Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. This was the anti-polygamy law that caused much headache/heartache for the Church. It is my personal believe that many of the legislatures at the time still followed there consience on this issue. I believe many of the legislatures honestly felt that polygamy was an abomination. Their honest though mis-guided attempt to legislate morality was not just a govermental failure but a stain on our nations history.

  18. Connor
    October 16, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    I reject the notion that I am indirectly contratually bound to obey any man made law.

    So upon what grounds does Congress create its laws? If the framework of government established by the Constitution was divinely inspired, as you would agree, then how could any of its laws be justly enforced upon citizens of the USA?

    It is true that all good laws are moral. Never-the-less is is not true that all morals should be laws.

    I agree with this. I’m not sure I was arguing in this (three-year-old) post that all morality should be legislated. I, too, would reject that.

    Anything that prohibits man from being perfectly free to “choose his own way” for the good or bad cannot and should not be law.

    Laws, which impose consequences for certain actions, do not necessarily restrict freedom. Consider this from Locke:

    “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.”

  19. Royal
    October 17, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    So upon what grounds does Congress create its laws?

    Excellent question. Authority is fundamental. Where do governments get authority to inact laws? The way I see it, there are only 2 places where government can claim authority. First is God, although the US Constitution was divinely inspired, I think we both agree that no government on earth is God authorized. Systems of government – Yes. Actually governments – No.
    Second is man. Governments claim authority from those they rule over. Individuals authorize the Governments to act in their behalf. National defense is a prime example. Up till now I think we agree, but here we differ…

    I don’t believe individuals or groups (which are utimately made up of individuals) can delegate authority that they themselves did not originally possess. As an individual, I have the God given right to excercise force to protect my property, and family. I therefore can authorize another individual to use force to protect my property. I can even authorize a group of individuals or even a government to protect my property.

    As an individual, I don’t possess the authority to coerce my moral/ethical/religious views on other. If I had a prostitute for a neighbor. I do not have the God given right/authority to enter her house, fine her, imprison her, or use any other means of coercion against her. How is it then that the government can assume this authority. Clearly, I (the neighbor) do not possess such authority. Where then does the government claim authority to enact laws against her? Do you suppose that the prostitute herself gave the government authority to imprison her through a social contract? That would be a tough pill for me to swallow. Expecially if she were kicking and screaming as the police hauled her away from her children.

    D&C 121:39 “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    Several versions of “unrighteous dominion” are given to us a couple verses earlier. 37 “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men,”

    As individuals we a responsibility and obligation to teach morality, but not by enacting compulsory laws. “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned”

    Now, if the prostitute had stolen from me I could ask the government for legal recourse. The government could then justly act in my behalf. The beauty of the US Constitution is the limits it places on government. There are other ways of handling the problem of a prostitute next door. Government is not the answer to our “social moral” problems.

    Laws, which impose consequences for certain actions, do not necessarily restrict freedom.

    I agree with these words, but not with your intended meaning. (at least what I think your meaning is) Man made laws that are restricted to Life, Liberty, Property, do not restrict freedom, but rather increase freedom for all. Let me pose a question/series of question,

    Why do we feel we must legislate/force morality? Will consequences not fall on the sinner regardless of man made laws? Will not nature take it’s course and the sinner will repent or “suffer the consequenses” . Why must we impose artificial consequenses on sin? Are the real consequences not sufficient? Artificial consequences are how I teach my children to understand real consequences. Do I believe I have the role of parent here on earth over my brothers and sisters, Implementing artificial “law” to teach them about God’s “Law”? Why do we feel we must punish sin with governments when life liberty or property are not harmed? This I don’t understand.

    Show me where Life, Liberty, or Property are harmed and I will be the first to sign the bill. Otherwise It be a tough sell.

  20. Jimmy Davis
    October 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    Connor, I have yet to disagree with any of the posts you’ve made. Last night I was reading Dallin H. Oaks’ talk- “Weightier Matters” which you quoted in this post. I agree with him when he says,

    Those who take this position (pro-choice) should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.

    The conflict in my mind comes when I read this and D&C 134:2:

    We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

    This is probably something so obvious that I’m missing but in my finite mind I find a contradiction in these two statements. Anyone care to make it clear to me how we can (should according to Oaks) legislate morality and also not infringe on the ‘free exercise of conscience?

  21. Shiloh Logan
    October 18, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    Do we want moral laws, or do we want just laws? Can we have one without the other? I submit that you cannot — they are necessarily connected. All good and just laws are moral; however, as Royal said, this does not stipulate that you can then legislate all morality. I believe this quote by Elder Oaks is seeking to address this fact. Remember that it’s a logical fallacy to say that since all A’s are B’s, then all B’s are A’s. Just because all good laws (A’s) are moral (B’s), it does not follow that legislating all morals (B’s) equate to good laws (A’s). Good laws are moral; however, when government is involved, just laws are established based on property rights — not perceived morality. Otherwise, the ancient law of liberty is violated. While it takes an inner moral sense to even fathom and accept property rights as a legitimate basis for law, it does not follow that the ‘freedom of conscience’ may be violated by legislating righteousness into existence.

    Although I do not see a dichotomy with this particular quote of Elder Oaks, I present this argument to other various talks he has given promoting the idea of ‘legislating morality’.

    President Eyring, in a BYU address in 1996 said, “Our Heavenly Father has at different periods in the history of this earth adjusted what he has asked of his children because of choices they made, but the new and everlasting covenant has endured and will endure” (Making Covenants With God). We often confuse prophetic counsel for Celestial truth. We must be aware that the prophet speaks to the Church where they are at; otherwise, by giving the members of the Church more accountability and responsibility than they can handle, the Lord – through his prophet – places his children in severe condemnation. The Lord, in his mercy, will not do this. Principles are eternal, but principles and laws we are commanded to collectively obey is a direct result of our righteousness. If we are a telestial people, we will be asked to live telestial laws.

    I do not believe that Elder Oak’s positivist view on this issue can absolutely mesh with the scripture found in D&C 134. I cannot stress it more adamantly, however, that, at the same time, I believe Elder Oaks and the Church are divinely inspired to do and say exactly what they are. How do I overcome this apparent dichotomy?

    What we are seeing today in our political spectrum is a convolution of political theories and philosophies. It is nearly impossible to define anything anymore – our language has truly become corrupted. Whereas our nation was built on a more purely understood principle of the language of natural law, today we are experiencing 200+ years of the revision of our language and legal positivism. This revisionism is vile and perverse, and it necessarily requires the spirit of prophecy and of revelation to guide the Church through this political “war of words and tumult of opinions.” Elder Oak’s words are a prime example of divine inspiration directed to the time and place wherein the Church finds itself.

    Our current political sphere is inundated with false philosophies of men mingled with a little ‘scripture’ (as it were). That is to say, there are false ideas that are seemingly justified by a few eternal principles. The Church, several decades ago, warned its members and exhorted them to save the Constitution from everything that socialism and communism entail. Today, the Church is silent on these issues. I generally agree with one of Connor’s posts addressing why the prophets are currently silent on these issues, and I will leave that argument to be validated by his post; however, I submit that we are not currently living under the transition from freedom to socialism, but we are now realizing the social destruction for adhering to socialist ideologies and philosophies for the last century. Compare the consequences of accepting socialism addressed in Ezra Taft Benson’s 1962 book The Red Carpet with the social issues addressed by President Hinckley throughout the last decade and a half, and you will see a near perfect correlation.

    I submit that the eternal law and principle was given in D&C 134. However, during the time when the prophets were warning about the threats to our Constitution, the ‘Elders of Israel’ (collectively) were no where to be found. As Benson said in late 1960’s, “Now part of the reason why we do not have sufficient priesthood bearers to save the Constitution, let alone to shake the powers of hell, because, I fear, unlike Moroni, our souls do not joy in keeping our country free, and we are not firm in the faith of Christ, nor have we sworn with an oath to defend our rights.” The answer to evil within a righteous society is as Royal stated – each issue must be addressed “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” However, when there are none “sufficient” to be found such as Benson describes, what is the Church to do? When we are not faithful like Alma – who gave up the political power (judgment seat) of coercion to rather bear down pure testimony (by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned) – then the Church must rely on a lower law that requires compulsion to keep the moral bottom from falling out. This point is extremely poignant, especially in light of Elder Christofferson’s words in General Conference a week ago:

    “This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, ‘We would not accept the yoke of Christ, so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.’ In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as symptoms of societal decay.”

    Elder Oaks speaks to the political positivist climate of our day, and the Church must necessarily travel this course. Why? Because this is what the Church membership, I believe, has accepted. There exist no collective ‘Elders’ with the power to bear down pure testimony; therefore, they must struggle with the sword (legal coercion) to mandate their morality upon society. The Lord must adjust what he has required of his people (based on their own actions), and allow us to live a lower law than what was revealed to us in D&C 134. We have rejected the principles of natural law for an acceptance of absolute positivism. There is no meshing Elder Oak’s words with D&C 134, but only an understanding, I believe, of the political and mental shift of those who are called ‘Latter-day Saints’ in how the Lord has adjusted what is required of us.

  22. Ty
    July 21, 2010 at 7:46 am #

    Connor –

    I’m curious if you were to write this entry today (versus 3-4 years ago) if your positions would be the same or if your understanding of things has evolved some.

    Having read your writings for some time, now, I suspect the latter. Your more recent post on the Failed War on Drugs would seem to be evidence of that.

    I suspect that most people agree that it becomes more proper (or “less improper”) to legislate greater degrees of morality the closer the level of governance gets to the individual.

    It’s still hard to justify legislation, however, if fundamental rights end up being violated. The whole spiel on government’s proper role and government not being justified legislating something that individuals couldn’t impose on others makes it difficult to reconcile many of these notions of legislating morality.

    How, generally, do Constitutionalists differ from Libertarians?

  23. Edward
    July 21, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Yes I too have wondered about some of these “Connor Classics”. ;)

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