The defense of a person’s rights is a hallmark of the American idea of liberty. Written into the founding documents is the concept of inalienable rights, rights that cannot be denied by any system of government or established authority. While the three overarching rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are general and public in nature, citizens in recent decades have grown comfortable with advocating for a whole list of private rights. Debates, arguments and conflicts reveal that not everyone agrees on these rights.
One argument that is quickly used in terms of rights is that morality should not be legislated by government. It sounds comfortable and agreeable, but some fundamental principles are being misunderstood. When a man states that he has a “right” to some behavior, he is essentially saying that he is in the right in what he is doing. In other words, he is arguing that he is doing nothing wrong. And in doing nothing wrong, he argues that any law prohibiting that behavior is unjust.
Laws serve as public declarations of what a society has agreed is wrong. The vast majority of U.S. citizens agree that it is morally wrong to steal from other citizens, so a law is drafted to declare that stealing is wrong. The law then empowers certain individuals with the authority to punish violators of the law, those who do the wrong, by depriving them of property (through fines), of liberty (through incarcaration) and maybe their life (through execution).
Every law written is a moral statement and by design governments are established to legislate and enforce the morality that is agreed upon by the society. Citizens agree upon what they believe is right and wrong and draft laws and establish governments to punish dissenters. This law and order is sustainable only if there is an agreement on what behavior is acceptable, what is morally right and wrong.
The real debate in a multicultural nation is what source of morality will be used to draft the laws. Equal rights do nothing to solve the dilemma as competing moral standards clash. At some point, the authorities must make a decision, uphold one moral standard over another and punish dissent. This is essentially what happened in the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln chose a moral standard, legislation was drafted against the practice of slavery and southern states that dissented from the law were punished through war, their claim to the right to practice slavery and succession denied them.
The same kind of debate surrounds abortion and gay marriage. The American culture is divided morally over both practices and a culture war has been underway for decades as one group, a minority, has used all possible means to either convince or convert the majority whose morality it is dissenting from. The moral standards from which behavior was judged and laws drafted once came from a Protest Christian culture, a theistic morality. However, this has shifted as the handful of positions holding authority and influence in the country were increasingly filled with secular thinkers and Protestant dissenters.
In a culture as divided as America, there is no such thing as equal rights. To promote the rights of one will inevitably trample the rights of others. If gay rights are established legally, dissent from those rights, which would be expected in churches, would necessarily and naturally require some sort of punishment for dissent. Whether it is called “discrimination” or “hate,” dissent from the moral consensus that accepts gay rights will be in violation of the law, of the legislated morality. As tolerant as human beings can be, there are limits when it comes to blatant defiance.
The government can and does legislate morality and punishes those who are considered immoral. The question is who is considered immoral. In the twenty-first century, Christians need to understand this. A new, post-Christian morality is being legislated against their beliefs and dissent will have to be punished.