Monday, November 7, 2011

Legislating Morality

All too often lately have I seen a Facebook conversation take a turn like this:

No Supporter: We don't legislate morality in this country.

Yes Supporter: Of course we do! We legislate morality when we pass laws against murder or stealing. That's the whole point of laws.

The response appears to stem from a faulty understanding of the nature of our rights and how our Constitution works. Authoritarian people, particularly conservative Christians, tend to look at the Constitution the way they look at their Bible: it's the inerrant Word from above and if everyone would just follow it, then things would be great. They love to thump it but most of them probably have little idea exactly what's in it. I'm willing to bet that most of these people couldn't recite the Ten Commandments if asked and I'm willing to bet even more that those same folks couldn't tell you contents of the Bill of Rights if someone was holding a gun to their heads.

The primary purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people. Behind that comes a vague notion of promoting the general welfare. The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to tell the government what it cannot do. The idea is that humans have rights that are intrinsic to our nature and these rights can't be completely handed over or stolen away. With those rights are necessarily coupled the responsibilities of participating in civil society. When we are newborn, our parents must accept those responsibilities for us but, as we grow older, we are able to take on more responsibility until - one day - our full legal rights as an adult are confirmed.

First, we must understand that our natural rights are inherent and, as such, are not subject to the morals and beliefs of other.  For example, I have a right to free speech and I am free to write, "I find the entire concept of Scientology to be absolutely ludicrous!" Now that speech is not immune from criticism but no person and certainly no government has just cause to take away my right to say that.  Likewise, if I choose not to believe in any gods, then the government has absolutely no authority to infringe on my right to disbelieve by promoting, endorsing, or mandating some type of religion.

Yes, it is true that we surrender some of our freedom in the process of determining legal rights so that others may also express themselves equally but we cannot justifiably take away a person's natural rights on the basis of some religious or moral belief. For example, the government can make sure that a church is adhering to proper tax law and paying all its taxes on non-religious property it owns but the government can never tell the church that it's beliefs are false and they must start believing something else. See the difference?

i26 falls flat here for two reasons. First, because the idea that life (whatever that is) begins at the moment of fertilization is a religious belief. It's a modern way of saying, "The soul enters the body at the moment of conception." Don't believe me? Ask any supporter what happens to the soul of the aborted and they will tell you that the unborn get a free pass into heaven. Read the official Personhood pages and they will tell you how this whole drive is about serving Jesus. Nobody, even for what might be a good cause, has the right to force you to obey their religious teachings that this is exactly what this amendment intends to do - force you to "conceive and carry" Jesus style.

Second, 26 fails because it infringes on the natural rights of the women who get pregnant (or want to get pregnant). We have a well-defined right to liberty and to be "secure in our persons." How can anyone be secure if the government is strapping her to a bed and forcing her to have a C-section? How can a person be free if a fertilized egg can claim more rights over her body than the mother herself? If we decide that the right to life reigns supreme, then we must accept the duties that go with that - being living, breathing, walking organ donors at everyone else's beck and call.

As the ever-wise Mr. Paine once said," Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law."

Now religion has come to the door to demand of us our natural rights. Tuesday I'm going to shut the door right in its face. My personhood is not up for a vote. What about yours?