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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

The law and morality

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 09:29 am

I caught The News-Sentinel's Kevin Leininger on Pat Miller's show on WOWO yesterday. They were discussing Kevin's column on Saturday about the new strip joint Club 44 opening at the site of the old strip joint Stewies on Coldwater Road across from Glenbrook Square. They both agreed that, while they might not personally care for "gentlemen's clubs," it appears that this one has crossed all the legal t's and dotted the i's, so they'll just have to grudgingly accept it. After all, some people like that sort of thing and  "you can't legislate morality." 

Actually, I think it was Kevin who said that, but Pat agreed with him. That prompted a caller later in the show to express surprise that the two of them could express such a sentiment about the law and morality. He expressed the belief that the law certainly could legislate morality.  No, no, no, Pat insisted. The law just punishes us for bad behavior, which is not the same thing as enforcing a moral code.

With all due respect to Kevin and Pat, they are wrong, and the caller is right. We can legislate morality. In fact, morality is exactly the point of the whole idea of law.

It would probably help here if we could agree on a definition of morality. We don't have to get too far into the weeds and thrash out the difference between descriptive morality and normative morality, or agonize over consequentialism and utilitarianism, or do an empirical analysis of morality in various countries of the world. Can we agree that morality involves how we treat other people? If we treat others fairly and decently, giving them respect and allowing them dignity, we are living moral lives. If we do not, we are not.

If I'm living alone on a desert island, there is no such thing as a moral or immoral way for me to live, and there is therefore no need for law. But the minute other people show up, we have to decide how we are going to get along. We will undoubtedly eventually arrive at some version of "treat each other as we would want to be treated." That is the beginning of morality.

As a society, we decide that certain behaviors would be harmful to the group if permitted to be committed against the individual. So those behaviors are forbidden, and those who engage in them are punished. We do not know what is in each other's hearts, but we have a reasonable expectation of how we are going to treat each other.

That is a moral code, and the law is the way it is enforced.

Martin Luther King Jr., in an address at Western Michigan University on Dec. 18, 1963, said the idea that morality can't be legislated is a half-truth:

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

If I may paraphrase: The law cannot turn me into a moral person. But it can make be behave in a moral manner. That is legislating morality, it seems to me.


University's LGBT students "fear" the arrival of a Chick-fil-A on campus. Oh, the awesome power of a chicken sandwich. At Indiana University, meanwhile, some students and faculty members are protesting the appearance of conservative social scientist Charles Murray, and steps are being taken to prevent violence. Heaven forbid anybody on a college campus has to hear opposing ideas.

Sean Spicer is the early contender for "foot in mouth" award for his attempt to show how evil Syria's Assad is by observing that even a monster like Hitler did not use chemical weapons. Is it too much to ask that all Hitler and Nazi comparisons be taken out of the public dialogue once and for all?

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz went on Good Morning America today to try to get the company out from under its drag-the-bloody-paying-customer-off-the-plane fiasco and said something like that will never happen again: "We have not provided our front-line supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense," said Munoz. "They all have an incredible amount of common sense and this issue could have been solved by that. That's on me, I have to fix that, and I think that's something we can do." But if the corporate culture has been to have everything done by rote from a very detailed script, I'm not sure thinking creatively will come soon or easily to these folks.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill raising the age of "criminal responsibility" to 18. Will criminally minded 16- and 17-year-olds start thinking they will have a free pass? Indiana, btw, is one of the majority of states without a specific age of criminal responsibility. So in theory a child could be charged with anything here.

Transgender madness update: Boy in Connecticut identifies as girl. competes as girl, wins everything.

We all remember that Judge Robert Bork was treated so shabbily by Democratic senators that his name became a verb, to be "borked" meaning to get really screwed over. Now we need a new verb based on the name of Justice Neil Gorsuch: gorsuch, transitive verb; Gorsuched or gorsuched; US Politics, slang: to defeat a malicious political attack through an organized campaign of public information and education. "We gorsuched the effort to vilify the candidate for public office."

Are Syria's chemical weapons Iraq's missing WMD? President Obama's Director of Intelligence thought so, and it's not an outlandish supposition.

OK, I realize this will get me kicked out of the cool kids' club, but it makes me cringe all over to read that: Caitlyn Jenner confirms that she has undergone sex reassignment surgery.


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