The government cannot take a neutral stand on most moral issues. There are a few cases in which this is possible, but for public moral matters, usually there is no such thing as a middle ground as we explained earlier in this series. The government and society in general ought to take the correct moral stand as we explained in the previous post. How does this apply to specific cases? These cases are often seen as “touchy” and many conservatives like to “not impose.” But as we explained, this goes against what we should do, and in fact we should impose in the sense that we should promote the correct moral values, unless that be practically imprudent in which case we must do so as far as possible and accept some evils must be tolerated but never endorsed.
We discussed previously the obvious case of abortion. In this case, since innocent children are involved, there is no way where we can say it is okay to tolerate evil. In some cases, evil has to be tolerated, for instance the government cannot outlaw every form of immoral deceit. This is not because the government is taking a stance that it is okay to lie, but that it is practically impossible to legally punish all sin. However, there are other cases in which the government is forced to take a stand and in these cases the government can never take an immoral stance. As we discussed, where there is a claim to a legal imperative, there is no room logically for neutrality. Since human life deserves legal protection it follows that the government has to either protect the unborn as human beings or allow for abortion in which case they necessarily accept the premise that unborn children are less than full-fledged persons. The government cannot tolerate abortion. Conservatives don’t claim that abortion is simply immoral and should be outlawed, rather, it is immoral in such a way that harms an innocent human being. In order to understand any conservative argument against abortion, imagine that unborn children were 1-year olds. The government cannot turn a blind eye to the murder of infants because they deserve legal protection. The same holds for unborn infants. Any reasonable person would understand objections to the protection of 1-year olds as absurd. If someone said similar to how liberals often do “I would never kill my 1-year old but I don’t want to impose my beliefs” they would be rightly ridiculed. In the last post we explained how we ought to promote correct morality in society. This of course is a broad guideline but in the less-broad specific circumstance, we can see the reason why we must promote the correct view. The incorrect view of course interferes with happiness because a society that kills its children is a cruel society. It seems apparent that to deny the need to outlaw abortion is to deny that unborn children have the same value as the rest of us or to say that you are a moral monster and could care less.
A second issue would be the issue of marriage. Often people even if they personally think marriage should be between a man and a woman think that there is no way to put this into law. However, if it is true that homosexual activity is immoral then granting it legal benefits is obviously wrong. Now it may be hard to make an argument of this sort in public, so it is often more prudent to argue against so called same sex marriage by pointing to negative consequences for instance harm done to children adopted by same-sex couples. Some leaders in the Church have considered civil unions as a viable option. The Church rejects such a view because civil unions, even if couples are prevented from adopting and have restricted benefits, still recognize as moral an immoral union, even though the law doesn’t recognize the union as marriage. Sometimes personal autonomy is seen as the ultimate good and any restriction of this is necessarily wrong. I will make two comments: (1) In the case of same-sex “marriage” there is no restriction on freedom to act on immoral urges, the conservative position simply states we should not recognize and promote through legal titles and benefits such unions and certainly not claim they are the same thing as the union of marriage. (2) Even if the government were to restrict immorality in this area it would not be unjust. Freedom isn’t an absolute right, everyone agrees with this because we all accept prisons as a necessary part of society. The question is simply when can we restrict freedom. There is of course the issue of when it is practically effective or wise and then there is the question of when it is theoretically just. As for the second question, it is just as long as there is no right to some specific freedom. There is no right to be immoral, hence for the government to forbid any immoral action is never itself an injustice to a specific person. In some cases, the overall system may include injustices, for instance if the means of discovering immoral behavior unnecessarily infringed on privacy, or had undesirable side effects. Even if the system is itself not unjust, it still is often wiser to allow certain evils for the sake of a greater good. But the point as it is related to same-sex “marriage” is the immoral desires of some has no power to dictate the formation of the law.
A third case would be the case of contraception and the HHS mandate. In the blog’s early days we discussed this in a post Separate issues of the HHS mandate . Of course, the conscience of individuals should be protected by law. A government which infringes on an individual’s conscience is usually unjust. A government that infringes on a correct conscience is necessarily unjust in a serious way and ought to be opposed. Further however, it is wrong for the government to fund contraception period, even if there is no violation of conscience involved. If the government were to allow conscience exemptions for everyone who opposed contraception there would be no injustice because the freedom of conscience would be respected. However, this would not be the ultimate moral goal, as the government paying for contraception is itself still intrinsically wrong even though not a violation of any liberty. That is not to say that the government must forbid the sale or use of birth control, because that is a different issue (remember, there is not necessarily a legal imperative to punish all evil so the principle of tolerance may apply.) Notice the difference with the abortion case in that with abortion an innocent victim is harmed therefore the conservative position involves a legal imperative (the principle of tolerance cannot really apply) so a neutral position is logically impossible).
Another example would be cases like prayer in public schools. Leave aside for a second the issue of whether or not the government should support a specific religion over another. Simply based on natural law morality (that is morality as it is known prior to revelation) it should be clear that it is proper to have prayer at various events and include God in public life. There is often confusion because people assume a sort of “natural law morality” (they would use different language but the same basic idea that it is morality before revelation) has to be atheistic. This is false as we have explained multiple times and will emphasize once again. The natural law, that which we can know through reason alone, tells us that God is the last end of the moral life and the center of morality itself. Therefore, public life ought to include God and our duties towards God like prayer. Some argue that it is impossible to agree on a specific religion for instance in public school prayers. The problem with this objection is that it falsely assumes prayer and belief in God has to be related to any specific revealed religion and secondly it commits the same fallacy as the “too religious” objection which we discussed in this series of posts. Even if the country isn’t specifically Catholic, it seems reasonable that Christian prayers are used given that we are in a Christian tradition and that the majority of people are Christian. This wasn’t even considered unconstitutional for a large portion of America’s history. Also, the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing a specific religion but this doesn’t mean that the government ought to embrace immorality or take a neutral stand (as we said such stances are often impossible on moral issues). Now, if the Constitution did mandate such a thing it would be an error of the Constitution because the Constitution is not the ultimate law by which we go by. God’s law is higher than the Constitution.
Be that as it may, the Constitution does not say “the government should shun morals” and since society ought to recognize God as creator and Lord, it seems apparent that the government should recognize this truth and act accordingly. Remember that atheism is not on par with religions or denominations of religions. The reason is that different religious claims are claims to a different revelation from God. Even if the country desires to keep Church and state separate and have the government prefer no religion to another, it does not follow that the government should be indifferent towards atheism, take a generally agnostic stance towards God’s existence, or treat religions and atheism as the same. Remember atheism can be refuted by natural reason alone. From the stance of pure reasoning (without faith) the government can be neutral towards various claims of revelation but still treat atheism as inferior to belief because the existence of God can be established through reason alone. Atheism we know is an immoral philosophy and because of this it seems if the arguments from the previous post are sound that the government has the right to suppress atheism if it so desires (of course this may not always be prudent or done in a just manner as we have discussed above with other issues, but in itself, it is perfectly justified).
The problem is that many people, including religious people, are operating on some false assumptions about morals and religion in general. Because of this, they accept the lie that the government should stay out of moral issues and individual people should not try to spread their own moral views to others. This is a lie because it ultimately hurts society at large. The government and society in general has to be moral in order to create a moral world. The moral world is one that acts in accord with the natural law, which includes the existence of God. A moral world is a happy world now and leads to the ultimate fulfillment of human beings in the future. Since no rational person would deny this goal, every rational person should desire society at large including the government have the correct moral stance on all issues. There may be questions on what the correct moral stance is on certain issues and there may be a question of how we can come to an agreement on the answers, but this much is sure at least: the more moral we can be, the better and the more certain we can be that we are moral, the more certain we can be that we will be happy. Who can reject this?
Since it is the month of November, we should remember to pray for the souls in purgatory. What many do not know though is that they pray for us as well. Let’s take time to pray to and for the souls in purgatory and ask them to guide us on the path to happiness, as St. Alphonsus says “Blessed Souls, I have prayed for thee; I entreat thee, who are so dear to God, and who are secure of never losing Him, to pray for me a miserable sinner, who is in danger of being damned, and of losing God forever. Amen.”