There Oughta Be a Law!!… Or Maybe Not.

How many times have you heard, thought, or said, “There oughta be a law!”?

Did you or the other person saying this really mean it and think it through?

Personally, I believe the following statements should help guide liberty-minded political thought.

1)       Something I think is good may not be good to compel by law

2)       Something I think is bad need not, necessarily, be against the law

Even though I firmly believe the above statements to be true, and I consciously think about this, I still sometimes catch myself saying, or just thinking, “there oughta be a law”… before I think better of it.

Everyone has heard of the Westboro Baptist church’s protests at military funerals.  I think what they do is awful…. Period.  When I first heard about this, I thought “there oughta be a law” to prevent this activity.  But, remembering the above, I reconsidered.  You have to think of it this way… Do I really want to create a law, for example, to limit free speech within a certain proximity of a funeral?  What if the free speech is incidental to the funeral?  And, even if so, what basis do I use?  Do I say the law is just because the speech was disturbing someone?  Do I say the limit is fair because someone’s feelings could be hurt?

“Danger, Will Robinson!”  Once we stray from banning speech that presents a clear and present danger (reference the old yelling “fire” in a crowded theater example), it is a very dangerous and slippery slope that can have us watching as our freedom of speech is continually whittled away.  How many speech limiting laws could “emotional distress” justify?  Personally, listening to the drivel of just about anyone on MSNBC causes me emotional distress.  I’m sure others feel the same way about Fox News.  But, illegal?  No.

Already, there are many, otherwise democratic nations where many forms of speech that others find offensive are becoming chargeable offences just because someone may be offended.  Examples include racist, anti-Islamic speech, and more.  While you or I would disagree with and may find such speech offensive, it should not be illegal.  This should never be the case in America.

Let me give a simpler example that affects me personally.  I’m a non-smoker.  My wife has never smoked and really can’t be around the stuff.  Smoke in restaurants used to limit our choices of where we could eat.  We now enjoy going to any restaurant we want because Ohio has banned smoking in restaurants.  Yet, I oppose the smoking ban law and favor repeal of the ban.  In my view, a property owner (e.g. restaurant owner) should have the right to allow smoking or not.  My wife and I, in turn, have the right to avoid restaurants that do not adequately accommodate those with smoke sensitivities or who otherwise want to avoid it for health.  Another restaurant owner, similarly, has the right to cater to those who prefer to stay away from smoke, providing for a lucrative business differentiator.

Okay… so ask yourself a couple questions when considering legality relative to your personal preferences.

1)  What if everything that anyone in the country thought should be illegal, was illegal?  These things could all be illegal if some people had their way:

  • All alcohol, including beer,
  • High calorie foods
  • Eating meat
  • Driving SUVs
  • Protesting against a war
  • Any statement that disagrees with someone else’s political views
  • Any statement that disagrees with someone else’s moral or religious views
  • Any action or statement that makes someone else feel “hurt”, no matter in how vague a sense.

2)  What if everything that anyone in the country thought everyone else should do was made into law such that everyone was compelled to do it?  We could be compelled to…

  • Go to church weekly
  • Get marriage counseling before marriage
  • Serve 2 years in the military
  • Serve 2 years in the Peace Core
  • Some, as you know, think everyone should have to buy comprehensive health insurance even if, say, you have enough money to self insure for small items and have catastrophic coverage in case anything major happens.

Okay, you get the idea… Whether you or I agree with these things or not, there should be no such laws.

Here’s a pithy little slogan for you:  “Don’t be a ‘fair weather friend’ of liberty.”  That is, don’t just oppose liberty limiting laws that hurt you, while supporting or simply ignoring liberty limiting laws that don’t affect you.  And, don’t favor liberty limiting laws just because they may seem to benefit you (at least in the short run).

For your further consideration, a friend of mine, Chris Littleton, recently wrote a blog on a similar topic.  I wanted to treat this separately, here, because I had a slightly different take and wanted to establish here, on my blog, some of the core principles on which many of my views are based.  Chris’ blog entry, titled “Are you a Socialist Conservative” is found here.

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2 thoughts on “There Oughta Be a Law!!… Or Maybe Not.

  1. Brian,
    Although I mainly agree with your statements, I do see the need for one major law. Everybody should be educated from first grade until graduation in the basic moral laws of the bible.
    I believe that with the fundamental knowledge of the moral standards of the “Handbook of Live” from our creator would solve many problems we have today.
    Does it mean we would solve all the behavioral problems? Surely not, because there is evil in this world and no matter how much you educate some people there are always some who just have fun to hurt others or to do evil.
    As you know, I grow up in a country ruled by a dictatorial government where everything was regulated to the point that you couldn’t even chose your profession or raise you children according to your own standards – in my case the bible – as the law of the family. Did it stopped crime from happen? NOT AT ALL.
    With that, I believe in FREEDOM of CHOICE and if somebody chose to live an unlawful live, this person has to bear the consequences and the consequences should be strong and immediate. Bud the consequences have to be based on knowing that every single person has had a comprehensive education about the biblical instruction about what’s right and what’s wrong and those laws as the law of the land should be based on those principles.
    Final, now law in the whole world can stop evil minded people from doing evil and we all know that JESUS need to die on the cross because GOD knew that we can’t keep his commandments. I’m not suggesting that we need no additional laws at all, but I’m pretty sure that we don’t need many laws beside the biblical principles.
    Finally, NO law has ever annihilated the crime (or evil doing) it was brought into existence to prevent.

    Harald

    • Harald, I hope you’re not implying that there should be one major US law that everyone must be educated in the morals of the bible. I could as soon argue that all should be educated in the moral tenants of the Hindu Upanishads or Vedas. While I think separation of church and state has been misinterpreted to exclude all religion from public forums, I think it is absolutely correct that there should be no law mandating any religious teachings. That said, I would love to see more teaching of moral and logic concepts without theism. Otherwise, is to imply that morality does not apply to atheists and agnostics. There should be basic moral concepts that most theists and atheists should agree on.

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