Last week, I attended my first meeting as a member of the local Planning Commission, a body that recommends the approval or disapproval of land development. It was mostly an introductory session for the new people, and the mission statement was one of the first things covered. It states that “the zoning regulations and districts as herein set forth have been made in accordance with a comprehensive plan for the purpose of promoting public health, safety, morals, convenience, order, prosperity, and general welfare of the community.”
At some point in the discussion, I asked, “Who decides what is moral?”
This is the Bible Belt, so I assume the writers of this statement meant something that the local denominations would consider moral. However, that leads to a couple of issues. One, there is this thing called the separation of church and state. Second, not everyone agrees with those denominations. Heck, those denominations don’t even agree with each other.
This is a country with millions of people and millions of opinions of what is moral. I don’t know who should decide what is moral, but I know that it doesn’t need to be the government. Why? Because governments fail when they attempt the impossible and trying to get people as diverse as Americans to live the way you want them to is definitely impossible.
Prohibition is the perfect example. Some people felt that alcohol was a detriment to society and was destroying the morals of the nation. For decades, they fought to make alcohol illegal, and, finally, enough politicians were convinced that an amendment was placed on the constitution.
To the chagrin of the crusaders, the consumption of alcohol didn’t stop. They only succeeded in giving organized crime a new line of revenue. Sure, they had been making money from prostitution and gambling, but only a small percentage of the population took part in those activities. Alcohol opened up an entire new customer base. As I tell my classes, the government took people who liked to drink a beer after work and turned them into criminals.
Obviously, all of the people who poured millions of dollars into the coffers of organized crime did not agree with the moral standing of the anti-alcohol folks. All those years of fighting to remove alcohol from the United States, and people still figured out a way to get it. Bottom line, people have been drinking alcohol ever since someone figured out fermentation, and people will always be drinking alcohol.
I always think of Prohibition when the abortion issue comes up. The other day, I read an article about the percentage of people who think it should be illegal. In this part of the world, it is a high percentage. However, here is the thing. Abortions took place when it was illegal. Women would suffer in cramped quarters as a clothes hanger was being used. The fact that it was illegal didn’t stop it.
Then, it became legal, and women could have abortions with professional care. For forty years, people have been ranting and raving and saying the government should make it illegal. That would end all abortions in this country. Actually, it wouldn’t. It would go back into the unhealthy shadows. Bottom line, people have been getting abortions ever since someone figured out how to do it, and people will always have abortions.
Gay marriage is another issue that falls into this area. People talk about how gay marriage should never be legalized. Bottom line, people have been falling in love with the same sex ever since someone first did it, and people will always be falling in love with someone of the same sex.
This “government should decide our morals” issue doesn’t stop at the federal level. I serve on the oversight committee of the local fairgrounds. A few years ago, we approved a beer garden for a large group that was coming in. One of the county commissioners said that Lebanon is full of good people, and they don’t want alcohol in their community.
He forgot a couple of things. One, there are good people in communities that allow alcohol. Second, this community already allows alcohol and reaps the tax benefits.
Despite those facts, the county commission voted to not allow alcohol at the fairgrounds. It’s a rule that the staff can’t enforce. It only limits our ability to rent facilities. Now, there is talk of building an event center on the grounds for concerts, conventions and sporting events. I’m not sure that is going to work because I haven’t been to many concerts, conventions and sporting events that didn’t sell alcohol.
I wrote all of that to get to a simple point. The government, on any level, does not have the right to make us live to a certain moral standard. It can’t tell us what to drink, what to do to our bodies, or what to do in the bedroom. Everyone has a different moral compass. Those who don’t like the way others live need to worry about the way that they are living. Because, if you hinder someone else now, then you may be the one that’s hindered in the future.
Do I agree with all of the issues that I talked about? It doesn’t matter what I think. Bottom line, the government is here to protect our freedoms and not dictate what those freedoms can and cannot be.