About that Whole Legislating Morality Thing…

As we contemplate the various reasons morality has declined in American culture, it is sometimes helpful to review past, and all-but-forgotten, battles over morality in the public square. In such cases, we can see just how poorly the poor arguments did the last time, and feel ashamed at why some of our guys keep using them today.

In the case of public morals, the perennial fallacies of American Christians are lessons drilled in their heads by their leftist public school masters and then repeated by rote: “You can’t legislate morality,” and, “You can’t impose God’s law on unbelievers.”

While we could certainly go back to when they first started tampering with marriage laws, divorce laws, custody laws, sodomy laws, etc., the following comments deal with pornography battles in the 1970s. These are nothing more than excerpts from Gary North’s article, “Pornography, Community, and the Function of the Law,” from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 2/2 (Winter 1975), pages 55–63.

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A couple notes: First, while he rightly targets “libertarians” in this article, the criticism applies just as strongly to liberals, neocons, conservatives, and especially the vast number of evangelical Christians who repeat the argument against legislating morality—each in their own way.

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Second, these excerpts are a great antidote to those same misguided Christians who think that honoring God’s law in society, or Theonomy, constitutes “legalism” or “Judaizing.” Nonsense. We are not talking about justification here; we are talking about standards of social life for man, family, and the state itself.

And again, Christians, this was published in 1975.


by Gary North

Given the limits imposed on society by the existence of imperfect human beings, social utopias of total perfection or total permissiveness (sometimes asserted to be one in the same) are an invitation to disaster. . . .

Opponents of the censorship of obscene literature generally rely heavily on the censor’s problem of defining deviant literature in a way consistent with the requirements of legislation. This is certainly a legitimate criticism if the goal is to rewrite the statute books in terms of greater legal precision. But when the critic concludes that because of changing standards no censorship at all can be legitimate, then he has gone far beyond the point of no return. . . .

The libertarian cop-out is simply to avoid the inescapable difficulties involved in the framing of applicable, yet imperfect law to the shifting affairs of life; it is a cop-out because it denies the validity of the idea of legal sanctions altogether, a utopian prospect at best, and a highly dangerous one in a period of social unrest. Yet it is not uncommon to see those opposed to all forms of censorship citing the First Amendment as proof of their position, as if the restrictions on Congress were ever intended to apply, a priori, to state and local governments, and as if the framers of the Constitution were not exclusively concerned with political speech and publication. Congress passed at least twenty separate laws against pornography between 1842 and 1956. A fifty-nation treaty also was signed to outlaw the sale of certain forms of literature. It seems ridiculous to argue that a conservative Protestant electorate and its representatives would have voted for so libertarian a document in 1789, but that is what we are asked to believe. Congress left many religious and censorship issues to local governments, to be decided in terms of local standards and needs; therefore, it is inappropriate to announce the end of local responsibility in censoring salacious, offensive literature.

Read the rest at American Vision

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