July 2019 – What Morality Should Be Legislated?

July 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

What Morality Should Be Legislated?

  Monday, July 15, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Some say that one cannot legislate morality, but why do we keep trying? The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”. Homicide and larceny statutes legislate the consequences of ignoring these divine rules. We are commanded not to bear false witness. Contract law tells us that we pay a penalty if we do and perjury and fraud statutes promise to send us to jail for our false words. But even without divine command, there are practical reasons for these bodies of law. What happens when one person’s morality rejects the moral imperatives of society or at least its most self-righteous members.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was called “a noble experiment” striving to save the country from the curse of alcohol and the wicked saloon the refuge of drunks and questionable foreigners like Irish, Germans, and Southern and Eastern Europeans. It led to a counterculture of flappers and bootleggers. Draconian enforcement led to a Detroit mother being sentenced to life in prison for liquor violations but no end to gangland killings. The experiment was eventually deemed a failure leading to repeal by the 21st Amendment. The country fights a war on drugs but street prices for cocaine and heroin keep dropping indicating a robust supply chain. Meanwhile minority citizens are incarcerated in growing numbers. Is there a lesson to be learned? Can morality be legislated if many ignore the law? Is insanity the process of taking the same action again and again and expecting a different result? Or were prohibition and drug laws not tried and found wanting, but instead found difficult and not really tried?

The Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade found a constitutional right to an abortion. Why are there annual demonstrations to denounce it? Why do some states seek to restrict on grounds of health and the rights of the unborn while others expand coverage to protect a woman’s right to make fundamental choices about her own body? Who speaks for morality in this controversy? Civil and human rights legislation bars discrimination, but white supremacists and nationalists seem as outspoken as ever. A Green Bill of Rights is proposed but environmental regulations are repealed. Next year the U.S. celebrates the centenary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Has sexism vanished and women achieved their rightful place in society? What place is that exactly? Do efforts to impose fundamental change by law or judicial decision generate more resistance than acceptance?

In the world America is sometimes called a “shining city on the hill.” Does our immigration policy make us seem more like a walled island? Does the rest of the world see us as a moral beacon or the heart of darkness? Are we the good people we think ourselves or a threat to world peace and economic stability? Is morality welcoming refugees or detaining them as threats to our way of life? What legislation would make us moral?

On Monday, July 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if legislation and morality can co-exist. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully lead us to the high ground. But even if we can’t find morality; we will have treats!