Legislating Morality. What Does it Really Mean?

When people say "You cannot legislate morality", I wonder what they mean exactly.  


They could mean that all civil law should be void of moral values.  I doubt many people intend this, because it's impossible.  Laws against murdering, not enslaving other humans, not stealing, are moral in nature and hence their enforcement is the legislation of morality. 

Or, they could mean that moral civil laws do not change people's hearts and make them moral people.  It's true.  I agree with this.

However, the purpose of civil law isn't to change people's hearts it is to provide the best possible society for everyone.  If a moral viewpoint of a certain class of people can be demonstrated to be beneficial for society as a whole there should be no hesitation to legislate that morality on a secular basis. i.e.. thou shalt not kill, honour your mother and father, etc...

This applies as long as those laws weren't uniquely religious--in the sense that they have to do with man's obligation to or worship of God or gods.

They could mean that you shouldn't impose your morals upon others through legislature.  I agree that the State shouldn't be used as a club so that you can make other people what you want them.  That's a bad motivation for sure!

Still, it's important to realise that all civil codes contain moral components that not all the people within a society are going to agree with.  There are many people in Australia and America that would be happy for the laws against polygamous relationships to be erased. There are people who would like laws against pimping etc. 

There are many examples of laws that are moral in nature that aren't acceptable to certain parts of society.  To say you can't legislate morality isn't really sensible if a person means that laws can't be moral, or that people shouldn't be under laws they don't personally agree with.

When some people say, "you can't legislate morality", what they mean is that they are happy for laws to reflect their moral values but not the moral values of certain others.  I think a lot of people are unknowingly in this class.  If you were to ask them if they supported laws against human trafficking they would most likely say that they do.  If you then asked them if those laws reflected certain moral values they would have to concur, hence they are quite happy with legislating morality.  In other words, they do not really believe that legislating morality is categorically wrong.

If you ask some of these same people--who support laws against human trafficking--what they think of people who support a 'no' vote on the issue of homosexual marriages they would say, "well you can't legislate morality."  I'm not addressing same sex relationships btw, I'm just using them as an example to show how some people use the "you can't legislate morality" argument as a slight of hand to disallow their political opponents from bringing their morality into politics when they themselves feel perfectly free to do it.

So behind the hypocritical pretext, they merely wish to silence a certain segment of society who disagrees with them on certain issues.  Trying to appear enlightened and kind, theirs is a pretentious facade, a dishonest mask of oppression, a hypocritical charade.  They should be honest and simply say that they are happy for morality to be legislated if it's their version and not the Christian version.  This they'd never do because that level of honest transparency would jeopardize their position and take from them their feigned moral superiority.


What should be and never could be legislated is a certain brand of religion or religious worship.  I stand by this 100%. 

I don't want others forced to honour the God I serve.  He wouldn't approve of it, nor would I.  Forced worship isn't worship at all it's evil.  I will never support religious entities using the government to make others adhere to their uniquely religious practices.  Yet, if we legislate moral values that reflect Islam, Christianity, or any other religious system for no other reason than that some of their values are demonstrably good for society as whole then it's not legislating religious faith.  Not at all.

The legislation of religious faith would be to enforce a certain brand of religious worship or a certain component of religious worship.  Like partaking of the mass or observing a holy day, or saying certain prayers to a certain version of God, etc. etc.  But, to make a law that protects parental rights and encourages children to honour their parents--this is just good and sensible.  A child who cannot honour the people who've done more for them than any other human ever will, isn't fit to live in a civilised society.  This is just an example--more could be cited.  I hope you get the underlying point even if you disagree with my particular examples. 

I repeat, the purpose of civil law isn't to change people's hearts, it is to provide the best possible society for everyone. 

God bless!


Matt & Sherise live in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.  They have two awesome sons, Max and Benji.