Let’s start with the Preamble of the Constitution…
Government is formed to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for a common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Our second President, John Adam’s, put a finer point on it when he enshrined the concept of “a government of laws, not of men” in the Massachusetts state Constitution in 1780.
These add up to immutable truths that serve us well as guideposts for governing and protect us (should protect us) from the vagaries, foibles, conceits and peculiarities of our political elites.
But, things sometimes don’t work out as planned. Government officials have been known to overreach and trespass into our daily lives telling us what we should and should not do. They become extensions of the idiosyncrasies of our governing elites; weapons used to enforce one persons’ or groups sense of moral rectitude.
This is the rightful job of a parent, a church, a service or fraternal organization…even one’s friends and business associates. It’s not the proper role of government; specifically, the governing self-righteous.
If history is prologue, legislating morality inevitably leads to disappointment, disruption and disaster. We become a government of men, not laws; a reversal of our constitutional destiny. It puts us on a road to hell paved with goody-goody intentions.
Prohibition against alcohol. Abortion. Anti-LGBT laws.
These are debatable; grounded in personal dogma as compared to moral laws that are universally accepted, even commanded: Thou shall not murder or steal. These are eternal and are not the same prohibitions as those that are transitory, life-style based.
One of the more perplexing and arguably ineffective efforts to legislate moral values occurred in 1964. I was there.
I stood on the floor of the House of Representatives when the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Across the Capitol in the Senate chamber, Sen. Al Gore, Sr., Sen William Fulbright and Sen. Barry Goldwater all voted against the Act, with Goldwater arguing, “you can’t legislate morality.”
What troubles me is that it’s been fifty-seven years, almost to the day, since the Act passed and what are we still talking about today? Civil rights.
Unfortunately, civil rights is not a universally accepted concept; especially, at a time when white supremacists are on the rise and organizing in the shadow of a former president.
I view this as an aberration that’s consistent with those parts of our Preamble that promote the general Welfare and the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Moreover, there is something insidiously wrong when one human views others not like him/her as unfit, unworthy and unequal.
Civil rights is not a universally accepted doctrine whereas the right to be uncivil is.
My point: When you have to legislate something that should be a moral certainty, but isn’t, we all suffer.
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