Should we, as a people, be deterred by the
charge of attempting to “legislate morality”?
The government in Nigeria has passed and has now begun to enforce a law, not only against “gay marriage”, but against people that are found homosexual and/or are found in any association that supports them. According to this law, as reported in the media, these people, when found, will be caged, i.e. imprisoned, for up to 14 years, with a 10 year sentence for any who “aid or abet” them. (Source: CNN, ABC) The enforcement of this “moral” legislation is not only the arresting of people belonging to “gay rights” groups promoting “human rights”, but has now, perhaps, even involved the torturing of them in an attempt to get them to name other people who are involved in the cause. They have arrested dozens, and are on the “hunt” for, potentially, hundreds more.
This, unfortunately, is nothing new in this world. In fact, back in 2009, legislation was proposed in Uganda that would have been the basis for executing, or life imprisonment, for those found to be homosexual, or charged with “aggravated” homosexual sex. This bill, in fact, could still be signed by President Museveni in the coming months.
In Russia, there have been similar things occurring. Early in 2013, Pavel Samburov was detained for 30 hours and fined roughly the equivalent of 16$ on a charge of “hooliganism” for kissing his boyfriend in public during a protest in Moscow (source: AP, Guardian). Yet, in June of 2013, Putin signed a bill in which that public kiss could be considered illegal and those who engaged in it fined much more heavily. In fact, any group that promotes “gay rights”, even online can be fined and otherwise impaired by the state. Even a public protest or passing out literature promoting “gay rights” is now banned in Moscow, as well as in several other Russian cities. Although these presumptuous limits on freedom could just as easily be turned on anyone else, Putin, in his recent state of the nation address, still maintains that “they” are defending traditional morals and family values.
To those who have stated things such as “we should not be deterred from legislating morality” without real context, and have subsequently ignored the moral dilemma surrounding government force and power: THIS is what “legislating morality” looks like when the moral principle of freedom itself is ignored. What is going on in Nigeria today is the logical conclusion, in practice, of what you are advocating!
One can only hope that real life examples such as this will help all those who justify their call for mobocracy realize that government is force. And for those who, ironically, use the Bible, or other scriptural text, to aid them in their justification, this author is left wondering where all of you “moral” crusaders are when it comes to praising Nigeria and other African nations? You are on facebook enough to combat libertarians on this point, why not simultaneously show an example of what you are advocating? At least be honest and consistent.
If you truly find homosexuality immoral and find it the role of the state to enforce your particular brand of morality on other people, why stop at the issue of gay marriage? Why not take that line of thought and lobby in the direction of what we are witnessing in parts of Africa currently. Perhaps, in your view, these african nations will be spared the wrath endured by “Sodom and Gomorrah”? (See Note One below). Those who make these types of arguments, you know who you are.
Perhaps the reason is that, although they will be found in forums such as facebook spending time to combat those who would call for a more limited government when it comes to the so-called “social issues” (as if ALL political issues are not social issues), they realize that the people would not stand for that argument in its logical extreme. This author supposes that even a bully would back away from a fight that they know the cannot win.
Does it involuntarily harm another person? If not, who could have Locus Standi?
At the end of the day, this issue is not about homosexuality at all. The principled stance would be the same if the tyranny shown above were, instead, being perpetrated against heterosexuals. The real issue is regarding the Proper Role of Government. This author is not trying to divorce morality from legislation, but to shift the moral question to a more fundamental issue that is antecedent to the creation of the legislature itself. If we don’t understand the morality that is superior and prior to the creation of government, how can we truly understand the moral issues that arise from the practice of the governmental institutions themselves? After all, it is not as if it would be wise to expect tomatoes to grow on an apple tree?
If, as Ezra Taft Benson stated so well, “the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act”, then how can one, let alone a group (even if it is the majority), legitimately force their particular moral view on other people? The mob mentality which would refuse this logic is exactly what the Founders were attempting to avoid in the creation of a Republic as opposed to a democracy, or more appropriately termed “mobocracy”. Noah Webster even wisely stated in A Federal Catechism that, “a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth; for a multitude is often rash, and will not hear reason.”
Even if the Russian legislature unanimously passed the “anti-gay” legislation, and regardless of the fact that according to Levada polls 2/3 of Russians find homosexuality “morally unacceptable and worth condemning”, does that mean that the unalienable rights of conscience, free speech, peaceful assembly can morally be put aside by the very institution set up to help protect them? A true Republic, and the Rule of law, and not man, protects the individual, regardless of how popular they are. (This point is discussed in further detail here). Perhaps those dedicated to majority rule should attempt to apply that principle in other areas of science besides political science to see how far that gets them as far as results are concerned.
Keep in mind, homosexuality, in and of itself, does not involuntarily palpably harm another person. That is regardless of the morality of the conduct which attends it. Murder, Robbery, Treason and crimes such as this necessarily infringe on the rights of another! They do not involve volunteerism, or the exercise of the rights of conscience, association, contract, or any other right. Did you notice the difference? There is not a possible way to murder without necessarily palpably harming another person. Claiming or being homosexual, or extending that into a relationship, does not have the same characteristic.
Therefore, as should be obvious, murder, for instance, as a real crime would legitimately be punishable with the aid of the mechanism of government, whereas, the other pseudo-“crimes” (which are merely violations of a majority of the legislature’s opinion) are not. And, in fact, who could reasonably deny the fact that the State of Nigeria, in passing and enforcing this statute, is acting criminally. (See Government: Punishing Crime vs. Perpetrating Crime; The Principle of Corpus Delicti behind a Free Society; Tragic irony found in “Justice” Courts)
Thomas Jefferson succinctly illustrates this principle in his quote taken from his Notes on the State of Virginia: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” If this were not the case, what other stable and logically consistent standard could there be?
The Declaration of Independence wisely outlines the principle that the sole legitimate role of government to be the protection of Rights and the Enforcement of Duties. It is not to alleviate beliefs and/or practices that are faulty and perhaps even immoral, yet contained within themselves in a way that does not harm others. This is not to say that all beliefs are created equal, or that lies are just as valuable as truth. But, in a good legal context, there is no room for using the bully pulpit of the state to force particular moral codes on anyone! To say otherwise is to champion a moral relativism that, unlike merely believing faulty things, actually does harm other people via state force. It is a centralization of power more worthy of the dark ages than a civilized people.
And besides, who would be able to demonstrate palpable harm enough to prove that they have standing (locus standi) in a court of law based on the presumably “immoral” actions taken by voluntary parties? And if one would have a hard time enough with that, then how could the state itself demonstrate this standing for its case against certain people?
Even if one truly believes that homosexuality is as evil as scripture may dictate, does it really even need to be said that it is not as if one could take the concept of homosexuality to court with any real effect (other than, perhaps, embarrassment?). Remember that there are more avenues for achieving change in society than the state, and centralization of power into the hands of smaller amounts of people is never worth the risk to freedom. Tyranny against one group can just as easily be turned against another, and then, where would be the end of it? The tragic amounts of democide (or death by government) in the 20th century alone should demonstrate this fact.
Do you hear the cry of the mob?
Notice the justification found in the words of some of these leaders:
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe defied criticism by British Prime Minister David Cameron of Africa’s tendency to lack respect for so-called “gay rights” by not only calling it “satanic“, but by reassuring “his” people that: “Do not get tempted into that (homosexuality) madness. You are young people. If you go that direction, we will punish you severely”. Uganda’s response, via government spokesperson Fred Opolot, was that “Our cultural norms and values don’t accept homosexuality”. Russia, as has already been pointed out, has overwhelming majority support for the tyrannical measures occurring there. (Notice their use of the words “we” and “our” divorced from actual content and context.)
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, stated last Monday night regarding their latest anti-homosexual statute, “This is a law that is in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. … Nigerians are pleased with it.” But what about the Nigerian people being punished? Or what about the people that actually have a sensitivity toward the concept of individual freedom? Does anyone really think that they are pleased with this? Do you think the Russians who are being fined, bullied, detained and having their rights trampled on are pleased with the “moral” legislation that the Russian legislature passed unanimously?
The assumption found in the quotes above, as well as many here in this country who, strangely enough, use similar arguments when it comes to issues such as “gay marriage” would put an ironic and self-contradictory twist to the phrase: “consent of the governed”.
Lack of Focus on Freedom as an Entire Concept
Today, unfortunately, many religious and secular leaders alike even call for their membership to act like the mobocrats that have, in many cases, limited their freedom (or seemed to limit their freedom) to a certain extent up to this point. Instead of rising above the fray, and recognizing both the simplicity of the concept of rights, and the folly of engaging in an unnecessary battle of the factions, or special interest groups, they react and engage in the very means that led, in many cases, to their call for political action.
These people sometimes even go as far as stating things such as: “Believers can be less cautious in seeking government action that would serve principles broader than merely facilitating the practice of their beliefs, such as laws concerning public health, safety, and morals.” May I, once again ask, for all those who did not catch the question: whose “health, safety, and morals”? Quotes such as these, as well as President Jonathan’s justification found above makes this author wonder if these people honestly think that society exists outside of the individuals that make it up. Does one think that, in President Jonathan or President Putin’s view, this measure is not justified when it comes to “public health, safety, and morals”. It is sad to this author that the anti-gay bill in Russia was passed, in large part, due to huge public support and lobbying from the Russian Orthodox church. Similar things occur amongst the united States.
If the freedom God and Nature intended for the individual should be subject to the whim of the majority view as found in the legislature, then why endow the individual with rights/duties in the first place? Why wouldn’t God, or the natural processes that have led to the human condition at this point in time, not change or have changed the very nature of man’s condition to be in harmony with that worldview?
This author, personally, finds it self-evident, that the rights/duties of Man reside in the individual, and that those rights/duties are before any society, and are morally superior to the mob and whatever particular form or morality they hold on to. I see this understanding as the standard set by the Golden Rule and all who truly understand and seek to apply it. I see this understanding as a win-win situation, as opposed to a win-lose scenario that is the basis of many of our current social institutions. This is why I have previously argued that true criminal behavior, whether via state action or only individual action, are not only tyrannical, but blasphemous.
A Classic Case of a False Alternative
Unfortunately, many people today, intellectually, fall into two different, but equally flawed, camps: One camp states that it is foolish to “legislate morality,” while failing to realize in stating this that every law/statute has a moral backing. In other words, there is no such thing as amoral legislation. The force of law always carries with it moral implications.
The other camp is a somewhat illogical reactionary stance to the first camp, stating that not only should there be “moral legislation,” but that they should seek laws to facilitate the moral beliefs they hold dear personally. This, of course, neglects the logical limits to lawful government action (as opposed to merely “legal” government action) as found in a correct understanding of the proper role of government, and therefore, neglects the general morality that is held by all people. The general morality, or, in other words the common denominator of human morality, which surrounds the concept of freedom. In this camp’s search for “moral” legislation, they forget that the concept of individual freedom is, in and of itself, the moral issue which impelled Man to seek aid through the mechanism of government in the first place.
Bottom line: Man did not enter society to become less free than he was, or would have been, naturally before so entering. Therefore, divorcing morality from government action is impossible and would beg the question in this author’s mind of why, under that scenario, would/could there be civil government at all? It would seem to contradict the very premise on which the point of having civil government in the first place was based. On the other hand, the same holds true when it comes to using the mechanism of the state to force a particular brand of morality on a general population which has varying opinions on such a brand.
The choice between these two is a false alternative. Neither are correct. It is essentially a choice between a state of chaos and pseudo-“anarchy” which nullifies the idea of government itself in the journey to divorce legislation from morality, and the idea of throwing the mechanism of the state to the mob and whatever form of morality they choose to marry to the exercise of its power.
Individual Freedom, in and of itself, is a Moral Issue
In this very description of these two competing, yet equally wrong, choices is found the dilemma behind the concept of civil government itself. It is this dilemma which was so wisely captured by this quote by H. Verlan Andersen:
“A government which pretends to be just to all must see to it that the code of morality expressed by its laws is properly enforceable against everyone. With the exception of infants and mental incompetents, everyone is expected to conform to the laws or suffer punishment. But unless each member of society believes the conduct which the law prohibits to be evil, and that which it commands to be good, some will be punished for doing that which they sincerely consider to be right while others will be compelled to do that which they regard as wrong. This violates our sense of justice and the only solution is to find a moral code which is known and accepted by all people.” (Introduction, Moral Basis of A Free Society)
There is an ugly irony to be found in issues such as those facing some in Nigeria today. While the supporters of the legislation tyrannizing homosexuals, both Christian and Muslim, are justifying this tyrannical decree under the auspices of “legislating morality”, those who see through the issue and understand the concept of human freedom and general morality simultaneously see this as a moral issue, and see this legislation’s supporters as legislating immorality.
Many who call for “moral legislation” outside of the general morality here amongst these united States often use a quote by John Adams to advance their “moral” agenda. He stated: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Without taking too much time in fully breaking down the context of this quote, I hope it is apparent after reading this article that this author is not arguing against morality or religion. In this quote, John Adams is neither arguing for forcing morality with the barrel of a gun, nor contextualizing the word moral. He is simply stating the reality of their importance. It is not as if this quote is from a specific piece of legislation that he supported.
I simply pose the question: Would a truly moral people call for tyranny, in any form?
As I have previously attempted to explain elsewhere, the only moral code which could possibly be championed in harmony with a correct understanding of fundamental Rights would be surrounding the concept of individual rights and duties. And, is it merely chance that that is the understanding championed within the outline of the Declaration of Independence?
But, ultimately, it is entirely up to us whether or not these principles are actuated in civil society.
[NOTE ONE: Many people, as has already been alluded to, in response to arguments this author has made have recalled the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. If you read the passage and recall the story in full, it wasn’t merely homosexuality, in and of itself, that merited the notoriety of evil attributed to it. It was the fact that they were forcing homosexuality involuntarily on people. Although this author, personally, does not view heterosexual and homosexual behavior on the same moral level, he does not think that it would have been much more moral, if you will, if it had been heterosexual behavior that was being forced on people involuntarily.
Not only that, but if one remembers the Biblical text accurately, does not Jesus Christ state that the Golden Rule, or the win-win law of Reciprocity, was the basis of both “the Law and the Prophets?]