“You Can’t Legislate Morality” – True or False?
This article was originally published as a part of the series titled “Just A Thought”
What do people mean when they say, “You can’t legislate morality”?
No doubt what’s meant is that you cannot legislate the intentions of the heart. We cannot pass a law that changes a man’s heart. By passing a law you cannot make a bad man good. So, in that sense, it’s true.
But in another sense, we can legislate morality. There are two kinds of legislation: priority and moral. Priority legislation represents choices between right and right: Do we build the road here or there? Should this money go to parks or roads? Moral legislation, however, represents choices between right and wrong: What happens when a man brandishes a gun in public? What happens when a mother terminates the life of her unborn child? What happens when a father injures his child?
In this sense, not only can we legislate morality, we must. Moral laws establish the boundaries of our civilization. Unless we legislated morality, the barbarians would overpower decent people. Our public servants are put in office to, among other things, restrain evil. We cannot legislate the heart, but we are responsible restrain it for the common good.
So, legislate morality we must, for, as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Perhaps Christians who want to make a bigger difference should offer themselves for public service in an increasing secular culture. Joseph, Daniel, and Mordecai come to mind. Yes, we need more Daniels in Babylon.
© 2002 Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced for any non-commercial use with proper attribution.