Absolutist moral pronouncements may be good guidelines for personal behavior, but they make very bad laws. And there’s a very good reason why this is so: absolute moral pronouncements are simple, and neither the universe nor society is. Equally important is the fact that human society has never been able to agree on exactly which moral codes should be enforced and how. Secular laws are by necessity a compromise between conflicting moral codes and beliefs based upon points of agreement [at least, ideally].
One of the basic principles behind the structure set up by the Founding Fathers of the United States was the idea that laws were to be legislated by a civil body, not by religious authority, and that those laws should recognize fundamental civil rights as superior to religious doctrine and rights. The reason for this was basic. They had seen and often lived through a time when people were tortured, killed, or otherwise persecuted for what they believed, and those acts were enabled by laws enacted pursuant to religious authority.
Yet today, we have tens of millions of Americans who are demanding laws to enforce their religious beliefs on others under the guise of religious freedom, effectively repudiating the idea of civil rights through their determination to enact and enforce laws restricting the rights of others based on religious beliefs.
One of the great ironies I see in today’s political debates and often hate-filled rhetoric is that the same people who are so deathly afraid that President Obama or others might impose Islamic Sharia law upon the U.S. are all too often those same ultra-conservative evangelicals who want to impose the “Christian” equivalent of Sharia on the United States – effectively limiting rights for women, legal recognition of religious practices, and the arrogation of religious beliefs over civil rights. Yet those individuals cannot see that what they want is essentially the same structure as ultra-traditional Islamists, but a structure supporting their own ultra-conservative beliefs and enforcing those beliefs on those who do not share them.
I’m very much in favor of civil rights, the right of an individual to do what he or she pleases so long as those acts do not physically harm others – and that includes forms of indirect harm. You should not have the freedom to pollute the air others breathe or the waters others must drink. I have great problems with laws that effectively marginalize others under the guise of religious freedom. I also have problems with those who wish to eliminate laws that protect health and the environment on the grounds that such laws restrict the freedom to do business. Obviously, no law can be perfect, but legislating absolutes is the route to tyranny, not morality.