In Defense of Legislated Morality

One of the more absurd myths of our age is that “you can’t legislate morality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. All law is a legislated morality.

Laws are enacted to protect people and property or to promote health and safety. Laws say something is good so society will protect it or something is bad and it will be regulated or punished. Laws against theft and murder are moral statements for the right to private property and the sanctity of life. Even a stop sign is a moral law. A stop sign says that you do not have the right to endanger the lives of others by reckless driving. Much has been said in recent years about abortion and homosexual activists moving from a demand for acceptance to favored legal status. This is true and represents a logical progression. First, homosexuality and abortion were demanded as rights, that is, the morality as viewed by the law was sought and gained. Then, favors and protection for what the law deemed moral and worth protecting have been progressively demanded and granted. The demand for gay marriage is based on the “rights” conveyed by the prior moral decision.

We cannot legislate moral people, but we will legislate morality. Laws against theft and murder never made anyone a better person, nor were they intended to. They were only to dissuade immoral people from immoral behavior through a fear of justice. Nor does stopping at a stop sign make you a more moral person; the intent is not to make you moral, it’s to make you drive in a way that protects the life and property of others. Magistrates, the Apostle Paul said, are to be a terror to evildoers; their purpose is to control people who want to do what the law says is wrong.

The morality upon which our laws are based is always religious in nature. The moral ethic of a Christian will be different from that of a humanist, or a Hindu, or a Muslim. When we change religions, our morality will change and our laws will eventually reflect this. We have seen a progressive shift from Christian faith and law to a more vigorously humanistic law in recent decades.

The inverse is also true. When we change our morality, we are changing our religious presuppositions, and our religion itself is changed. It is not just anti-Christianity from without that is our problem now; we are also fighting the anti-God’s law (antinomian) element that has attacked the Kingdom of God from within its own gates.

We all believe in law, so we all believe in legislating morality. I believe in God’s morality. In what morality do you believe?

Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of The Chalcedon Foundation and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.