Morality and the Law

Lesson 1: Topic 4 of 19

If that assertion seems strange, then ask: which of the following statements is true? 

  • Murder is immoral because it was made illegal
  • Murder was made illegal because it is immoral

The second one is true, of course. Anyone who says “you can’t legislate morality” has completely missed the very obvious point that legislation is nothing more than codified morals. In other words, whatever is and is not passed by various legislatures or interpreted by the courts (‘tort law’) is a collective societal determination of what is moral. (It would be accurate to instead say “you can’t legislate character,” but that is another subject altogether). 

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Law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the lawless. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Externally imposed rules have their place in society, yet laws and codes alone will never be enough. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Some laws are immoral and must be done away with. Even moral laws can be evaded. It’s up to each individual to do the hard work of improving themselves in order to improve the environment around them. Personal integrity is the outworking of internalized ethical core values.