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Morality Should Be Legislated

What would you say?

You shouldn’t legislate morality You’re in a conversation about what should be legal and what should be illegal, and someone says, “you shouldn’t legislate morality.” What would you say? People who say that morality shouldn’t be legislated have a problem with the idea of using laws to make everyone else behave like they think they should. But the next time you hear that it is wrong to legislate morality, here are three things to remember. First, every law is a moral law. Speed limit laws are based on the idea that it’s wrong to endanger the lives of others. Recycling laws say it’s right to reuse things if you can because it’s wrong to abuse the environment. Arson laws say it’s wrong to burn down your neighbor’s house if his dog poops in your yard. From speed limits, to the criminal codes, to building regulations, to laws that govern business and protect consumers, each and every law asserts that some things are good and others are bad. Some thing are helpful and others are harmful. All laws are moral laws. Which leads to the second point. Since every law is a moral law, every law legislates morality. Sometimes the law takes moral positions everyone can agree on, like laws that prevent dumping poisons into public waterways. Sometimes the law takes moral positions on issues of strong disagreement, as with abortion. But the fact that there is disagreement about an issue does not change the fact that both sides are taking a moral position. Which leads to the third point, Since every law legislates morality, the better question to ask is “who’s understanding of morality will better lead to human flourishing?” Really, the accusation that legislating morality is wrong is an attempt to attack people and avoid discussing crucial ideas. Recognizing that everyone is trying to legislate morality allows us to talk about what’s really important. Does abortion actually help women? Is every family structure the same? or do kids actually need a mother and a father? Most of the time those who express concerns about people “legislating morality” are targeting religious morality. These same people are unconcerned about the risks of legislating morality when it comes to the moral causes they care about, such as saving the planet, ensuring LGBT protections, or addressing income inequality. This reveals that the concern isn’t really about legislating morality, it’s about legislating certain morality. So, next time someone tells you not to legislate morality, remember these three things. First, every law is a moral law. Whether its speed limits or abortion laws, every law is taking a moral position and that’s what it’s supposed to do. Second, every law legislates morality. Third, the better conversation is “who’s understanding of morality will better lead to human flourishing.” We’re all entitled to our opinion, but we can’t all be right. Let’s find out which morality is the best morality. For What Would You Say, I’m Joseph Backholm.