The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that legal law and moral law are not always the same. A bill becomes a legal law when both houses of Congress pass it and the President signs it into law. In order for that law to also be a moral law, it must have a moral basis.
Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University,understood this fact very well. “How does something immoral, when done privately, become moral when it is done collectively? Furthermore, does legality establish morality? Slavery was legal; apartheid is legal; Stalinist, Nazi, and Maoist purges were legal. Clearly, the fact of legality does not justify these crimes. Legality, alone, cannot be the talisman of moral people.” (See All It Takes Is Guts: A Minority View.)
The government of the United States of America is a nation built on law, but the nation itself is built on the morals or lack of morals of the people. Mr. Williams explained why this is so and how our society has changed since he was a child
. “A civilized society’s first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions and moral values. Behavioral norms, mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots such as shalt not murder, shalt not steal, shalt not lie and cheat, but they also include all those courtesies one might call ladylike and gentlemanly conduct. The failure to fully transmit values and traditions to subsequent generations represents one of the failings of the so-called greatest generation.
“Behavior accepted as the norm today would have been seen as despicable yesteryear. There are television debt relief advertisements that promise to help debtors to pay back only half of what they owe. Foul language is spoken by children in front of and sometimes to teachers and other adults. When I was a youngster, it was unthinkable to use foul language to an adult; it would have meant a smack across the face. Back then, parents and teachers didn’t have child-raising `experts’ to tell them that `time out’ is a means of discipline. Baby showers are held for unwed mothers. Yesteryear, such an acceptance of illegitimacy would have been unthinkable.
“To see men sitting whilst a woman or elderly person was standing on a crowded bus or trolley car used to be unthinkable. It was common decency for a man to give up his seat. Today, in some cities there are ordinances requiring public conveyances to set aside seats posted `Senior Citizen Seating.’ Laws have replaced common decency. Years ago, a young lady who allowed a guy to have his hand in her rear pocket as they strolled down the street would have been seen as a slut. [The practice of] children addressing adults by [their] first name was unacceptable….”
I have a lot of respect for Mr. Williams because he sees things as they really are and is not afraid to tell it like it really is. Our society is much different from when I was a child, and freedom and liberty have been lost because of the changes. Parents and other adults taught their beliefs and values to the children because they understood that family teachings, customs, and religious instructions cannot be duplicated by law. I encourage you to read the entire article by Mr. Williams.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about moral absolutes and moral relativism in public policy. He said that “one of the consequences of shifting from moral absolutes to moral relativism in public policy is that this produces a corresponding shift of emphasis from responsibilities to rights. Responsibilities originate in moral absolutes. In contrast, rights find their origin in legal principles, which are easily manipulated by moral relativism. Sooner or later the substance of rights must depend on either the voluntary fulfillment of responsibilities or the legal enforcement of duties. When our laws or our public leaders question the existence of absolute moral values, they undercut the basis for the voluntary fulfillment of responsibilities, which is economical, and compel our society to rely more and more on the legal enforcement of rights, which is expensive.
“Some moral absolutes or convictions must be at the foundation of any system of law. This does not mean that all laws are so based. Many laws and administrative actions are simply a matter of wisdom or expediency. But many laws and administrative actions are based upon the moral standards of our society. If most of us believe that it is wrong to kill or steal or lie, our laws will include punishment for those acts. If most of us believe that it is right to care for the poor and needy, our laws will accomplish or facilitate those activities. Society continually legislates morality. The only question is whose morality and what legislation.
“In the United States, the moral absolutes are the ones derived from what we refer to as the Judeo-Christian tradition, as set forth in the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament. Despite ample evidence of majority adherence to moral absolutes, some still question the legitimacy of a moral foundation for our laws and public policy. To avoid any suggestion of adopting or contradicting any particular religious absolute, some secularists argue that our laws must be entirely neutral, with no discernable relation to any particular religious tradition. Such proposed neutrality is unrealistic, unless we are willing to cut away the entire idea that there are moral absolutes."
I believe that laws can be both legal and moral. In fact, I believe the best laws are both legal and moral. When our laws are legally passed and signed and are based on moral laws, our nation will be strong. We must insist that our political leaders stop passing immoral laws – such as Obamacare – and pass laws that conform with moral laws.