R.roberts “You can’t legislate morality!”

Have you ever heard that statement from somebody who is say… a proponent of gay marriage or who perhaps is in favor of abortion rights?  Perhaps they don’t think government should get in the way of additional casinos being built (they don’t have to worry in Iowa, but that’s a whole separate post).

“You can’t legislate morality!”  Well, in fact you can.  Anytime a law is passed you are legislating morality.  The question that remains is whose?

All law is based on somebody’s morals.  That doesn’t mean it it’s right or just.

That is what I believe Iowa Gubernatorial Candidate, Rod Roberts, meant when he was interviewed last week by The Des Moines Register.  Kathie Obradovich a political columnist at The Des Moines Register in a blog post last Friday entitled, “Roberts: All laws are moral” gave the context of when this topic came up and what he said:

Roberts was asked how his position to allow no taxpayer-funded social services to illegal immigrants squares with his Christian obligation to help those in need. He said: “Certainly you treat people humanely. At the same time as a Christian, you understand that the law is something that you abide by. If the law says that you cannot be here …”

At that point, he was interrupted with a question about whether the law could be immoral.

“In my definition of what the law is, no,” he said. “The law is a rule or a standard of conduct agreed upon by a particular people group and is the authority and is enforced.”

Asked if that includes gay marriage, he said, “It’s about morality. It’s a moral thing. In fact, that’s an interesting thing that you bring up because I’ve always made the case that what the governor does, what the Legislature does, law-making, is about morality. Because most often, laws reflect some sort of reaction to a behavior. And it is, by its very definition, moral.”

He said if Iowans were to vote down a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, then he’d consider that a moral law. “If the people of Iowa, with that opportunity, expressed themselves and expressed their will with a no vote, that’s it.”…

…Roberts acknowledges that people may have conflicts of conscience regarding the law. “Even though our Code, or statutes, may be based on a Judeo-Christian world view and cultural setting, the law that we have is agreed to. That’s what you abide by and enforce. There may be moments when you internally have a conflict about something,” he said.

I’ll say up front that while I think I understand what he meant; I don’t think he handled the question very well.  I would have phrased this differently, but then again I wasn’t in the hot seat with The Des Moines Register editorial board.  I was reminded of something I read from Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason awhile back, and I looked it up on their website so I could share it with you.

In May, 1994, Congress passed a law making it a federal offense to block an abortion clinic. Pamela Maraldo, President of Planned Parenthood at the time commented to the press, "This law goes to show that no one can force their viewpoint on someone else." The self-contradiction ought to be obvious: All laws force someone’s viewpoint.

All laws force someone’s viewpoint, for the last two years Democrats in the Iowa General Assembly and Governor Chet Culver have been forcing their view of morality down our throats – funding stem cell research, changing the civil rights code, not acting on the gay marriage ruling, etc.

That is what I believe Representative Roberts meant because knowing the man I don’t believe he is a moral relativist and I don’t believe he thinks that the majority decides what is right and true.  Obradovich predicted, “Roberts is going to regret venturing down that road.”  She’s likely right as Iowa Family Policy Center Action sent out a press release calling on Roberts to correct his statement.

IFPC Action President Chuck Hurley responded to the report by saying, “Since Mr. Roberts is a minister and an intelligent State Representative, I have to believe he misspoke and will correct a statement that is so clearly inaccurate.” He went on to say, “Morality is a standard by which all of our actions and decisions are measured, not a sliding scale that can be redefined by the political agendas and legislative actions of elected officials, or even by a vote of the people. I believe Roberts understands this and needs to clarify his position”

Pointing to a major example of a lawmaker seeking to overturn an immoral law, Hurley continued, “William Wilberforce was a British Member of Parliament who understood the role of lawmakers to conform man’s law to a higher moral standard. Outlawing slavery was the passion of his legislative career, expressly because he understood that the law at the time was immoral.” He continued, “If Wilberforce had operated according to the standard Mr. Roberts seemed to express, England would not have outlawed slavery in Wilberforce’s lifetime.”

Likewise, Hurley drew a parallel between the abolition of slavery in the United States and the current debate over same-sex “marriage” in Iowa.  “Representative Roberts’ viewpoint came across as one of surrender. We need lawmakers who will stand up and fight for what’s right for the long haul,” said Hurley. He further stated, “We need a Governor who will use his office to lead the state to pass and protect moral laws like William Wilberforce did. We need a governor who will stand up to immoral Supreme Court opinions, like President Abraham Lincoln did when he used an executive order — The Emancipation Proclamation — to push back against the immoral Dred Scott slavery opinion of the US Supreme Court.”

First off I trust that if Bob Vander Plaats made a similar comment, misspoke or was in error that we’d see a press release from IFPC.  Secondly, I agree with Chuck Hurley that “Morality is a standard by which all of our actions and decisions are measured.”  Again, whose morals?  Ours would be biblical morals.  I also agree that a Governor should work to change law that is unjust.  What I took from Roberts’ statement regarding gay marriage is that if an amendment is voted down – we are politically at a dead end.  Does that mean he thinks we’d lose a vote?  Did he say that?  Also in regards to slavery, that battle wasn’t fought on just the political front.  I’m sure Chuck realizes that.  If we lose a vote on gay marriage, we have to win hearts and minds first (had we done a good job of doing that to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this mess) before we ever think we can win that debate politically.

I think that’s what he meant, but I wanted to discuss this with him and have scheduled an interview tomorrow that will be posted Wednesday night or Thursday morning.  I don’t want to put words in his mouth.  We are going to discuss his worldview – what law would he consider unjust?  What did he mean regarding laws being moral?  How do we know something is right and true?  Can a law be immoral?

I think we’ll find that this a case of something he said in an interview needing clarity, not evidence of a flawed worldview.  I hope you check that interview out before you jump to conclusions.

6 comments
  1. Good post. I’m looking forward to the interview.

    I particularly liked the quote, and I’m paraphrasing here, “All laws force someone’s viewpoint on someone else.”

    -Marshall Jones Jr.
    .-= bondChristian´s last blog ..Success = Submission =-.

  2. I’d like to know where you think the marriage equality issue will stand in ten years. More states will allow it or less? Will anyone have been harmed by it and how?

    1. Good question. Since you call it a “marriage equality” issue I know where you stand. In ten years I’m sure there will be more states allowing it though I am not convinced it will be through popular vote. Every time there is a popular vote on the issue those on your side gets tromped.

      However I do see a shift and that is largely due to a shift in our educational system in that a homosexual agenda has been present within curriculum for years. You may celebrate that, but when schools, government, etc. usurp the influence of parents in key areas of life like this is where we see the most harm, in my opinion.

      How will it harm? I think it will harm the family structure – if you look at Sweden who legalized gay marriage, there is a decline in marriage altogether with more “families” being people who cohabitate. That situation is certainly less stable than traditional marriage (and yes I know the divorce rate needs to be addressed) which I think hurts children.

      This opens the door for other groups to demand that marriage be defined in a way they would like. If you don’t agree with this, look to Canada, polygamists are already making headway.

      Ultimately I think this will hurt the family as an institution, and when you do that, you hurt society as well.

  3. Shane,

    Great article, and I think that when compiled with the Church\State article you posted today, you perfectly identified the problem with some of the Social Conservative activists. They fail to identify the difference between religous law, societal standards, and civil laws. I believe that one day the three will be contained in the same body of code (or ruler), but until that day, and especially since we live in a representative republic, those three things are quite destinct.
    Our job as evangelical christian activists is to push for laws that protect the innocent from the unrighteous. We must work through our representative government to defend the individuals rights up to the point where his\her rights meet a neighbors nose. In other words our Creator given individual rights must be jealously defended, but they can never infringe on the Creator given rights of another.
    The Bible teaches us through the Old Testament that you can legislate moral actions. ie An eye for an eye, and a life for a life. But the New Testament teaches us that you cannot legislate morality itself. That must come from the heart. The Law is only to show us where we are wrong prescribe punishment for doing wrong. It cannot take away from us the freedom to make bad choices.

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