Forcing Your Morality on Others
Isn't that what we do all the time?
One of the mantras that used to be readily deployed by the pro-abortion activists (I assume it still is, but I haven't heard it as much as I used to) was the phrase, "Don't force your morality on me." Obviously, it was intended to say that where there was a difference of opinion on a particular topic, it was inappropriate for some to enact laws that would effectively enforce the moral beliefs they held on those who don't accept those moral precepts. Abortion was seen primarily as two competing views of the world: one side felt that abortion was morally reprehesible, while the other side felt that abortion was morally neutral. Since the two sides differed, it was argued that it was appropriate to leave it to the individual to decide for themselves if abortion was reprehensible or benign, and to choose to have or not have an abortion accordingly. The argument continued that if those who opposed abortion were to enact legistlation taking away the woman's "right to choose" to have an abortion if she felt it were morally benign, then the abortion opponents were forcing their morality on that woman. That, it was argued, was wrong.
An obvious flaw in this type of reasoning is that the belief that it is wrong to force one's moral beliefs on another is, in itself, a moral belief. Thus, if you argue that it is wrong for me to impose my morality on you, I can, of course, respond "if its wrong, why are you forcing your morality on me?"
U.S. News editorialist John Leo has taken a different tact, and has written a very fine article entitled "Don't Discount Moral Views" (which is available on-line now for a small fee now, but will be available for free within two weeks) on the failings of this line of thought. In it, he notes that the application of this doctine of "not pushing your morality on me" is rather one-sided--it only applies against traditional Christian morality. He writes:
The "don't impose" people make little effort to be consistent, deploring, for example, Catholics who act on their church's beliefs on abortion and stem cells, but not Catholics who follow the pope's insistence that rich nations share their wealth with poor nations, or his opposition to the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq.
If the "don't impose" people wish to mount a serious argument, they will have to attack "imposers" on both sides of the issues they discuss, not just thir opponents. They will also have to explain why arguments that come from religious beliefs are less worthy than similar arguments that come from secular principles or simply from hunches or personal feelings.
I think Mr. Leo is correct. There is certainly no question that those who oppose the imposition of morality will have to explain why they don't have a problem with the imposition of morality in the issue of civil liberties. Why is it not wrong to impose their morality that racism is wrong on a member of the Ku Klux Klan or some other rascist organization? Why is it not wrong to impose their morality that homosexuality is to be accepted by requiring "diversity training" to those who have a differing mindset?
But Mr. Leo really hits the nail on the head very early on in the article when he notes the following:
[A]s UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh writes, "That's what lawmaking is--trying to turn one's opinions on moral or pragmatic subjects into law."
Exactly. Law is all about pushing the morality of some on others. In some cases, the morality being pushed is a shared morality with which very, very few of us would disagree, e.g., it is wrong to kill another innocent human being. Sometimes the morality being pushed is a little more fuzzy where people may agree in principle, but their actions show that they don't have a real problem with it, e.g., it is wrong to lie on you tax returns. In some cases, the morality being pushed is the morality that a great number of people frankly dispute (or disputed at the time), e.g., it is wrong to maintain "separate but equal" accomodations and schools for blacks and whites in a state. In fact, with the exception of some laws relating to health, safety or licensing, virtually all laws are about pushing someone's morality on others. It's wrong to steal, so we have laws and laws and laws defining various ways that people can steal and restricting them. It is wrong to lie, so we have laws and laws and laws against perjury, misrepresentation, etc. You probably get the picture.
I contend that it is not wrong to attempt to push one's morality on others through law; we do it all the time because that is exactly what law is for. The question isn't whether it is moral to push morality through legistlation, but which morality should we push? Which answer to an issue that may have its basis in morality provides a better framework for a stable, liveable world? When we start asking that question instead of demanding that our personal choices be free from other people's morality, we will start moving forward into a better world.