Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

United States Morality Laws Endanger Personal Freedoms, Ethical Choice

By Austin Tice

This summer I traveled through Europe. I saw many things that I had never even dreamed of – fairy tale castles, mind-bogglingly beautiful mountain ranges and the bizarre terrain of central Turkey. I met people unlike any I have ever known. In the course of my travels I was repeatedly exposed to opinions to which I had never before given any serious thought, and I found many of them surprisingly convincing.

I returned to the States convinced that European ideas and policies on many subjects are logically superior to those taken nearly for granted here in America.

While I generalize, most European countries have a marked lack of morality laws. For example, the drinking age is 18 instead of 21, but is almost universally ignored. In many countries, prostitution is legal. Sodomy laws are virtually nonexistent. In some countries, marijuana and other soft drugs have been decriminalized. Across the board, there is less legislation concerning the private lives of citizens.

There are strong arguments for why America should drop its morality laws. As I traversed Europe, I did not see signs of rampant alcohol abuse, except among other young Americans. The advertisements for prostitutes in London telephone booths did not appear to have any appreciable negative effects on the well-being of England. Outside of the tourist-infested red-light district, Amsterdam was one of the most beautiful cities I visited.

Were America to decriminalize marijuana – or any other drug, for that matter – drug sales could be regulated and taxed. Instead of constituting a massive drain on the criminal justice system, these taxes could become a significant source of government revenue. The power of monopolistic drug cartels would instantly be broken, reducing crime levels both in the US and abroad.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the legalization of prostitution could have positive effects on public health. Given that prostitution exists, despite being illegal, its regulatory commission mandating licensing, condom use and other protective measures could appreciably slow the spread of AIDS and other venereal disease. Readily available prostitution could also conceivably reduce the incidence of casual unprotected sex, another major contributor to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The abolishment or lowering of the drinking age would facilitate more responsible attitudes towards alcohol among minors. Instead of being forced into the background of covert illegitimacy, young people could be encouraged to learn to drink responsibly. And it seems almost self-evident that our roadways would be safer if young people were encouraged to learn to drink responsibly before they were allowed to drive.

In addition to these practical benefits, there are also philosophical reasons why America should abandon its morality laws. Legislation concerning the private lives of American citizens directly contradicts the value traditionally placed on the individual in American society. From the time that the first religious dissidents landed on our shores, to the legends surrounding the pioneers, to the respect accorded to Martin Luther King and all other great leaders who stood against contemporary popular opinion, America has placed a premium on personal independence and self-determination. We tolerate levels of crime unheard of in other industrialized countries in order to protect the individual’s right to bear arms. Great books like “1984” and “Brave New World” resonate strongly with the average American’s fear of governmental intervention in their own personal affairs.

But anyone who knows the first thing about America isn’t holding their breath waiting for the Europeanization of our legislation. Sorry, folks, but marijuana usage, prostitution and underage consumption just aren’t going to be legal any time in the foreseeable future.

There is a contradiction in the American psyche. Opposed to all other sentiments, moral conservatism has played a dominant role in all aspects of the development of our society, and that includes our legislation. The effects of this moral sentiment have very often been positive. But when it comes to forcibly regulating the private lives of American citizens, this supposed morality becomes nothing but a morally reprehensible tyranny of the majority.

This morality also defeats what ought to be its highest philosophical and moral intention. By forcing people to live a “good” life through fear of the legal consequences, moral legislation denies the ability of the individual to make a moral decision. If prostitution is immoral, I am moral only if I choose not to support it. If I am forced to abstain from soliciting a prostitute by a third party, it is no longer a moral action on my part. Morality laws are nothing but a crutch that we as a society have imposed on ourselves.

These are issues which include a very strong emotional element, and passions often run high on both sides of the arguments. Regardless of your personal opinions on any of these issues, you have to realize the inherent danger of placing morality in the realm of legislation. If your personal opinions are currently out of favor, this point needs no emphasis. If you support the current morality laws, imagine a scenario 10 or 50 or 100 years from now, when public opinion might directly contradict a moral belief you hold dear.

The proper function of government simply does not encompass the legislation of morality. While there certainly is no need to summarily reject our moral heritage, we must be careful, thoughtful and systematic. We should not be too proud to learn a thing or two from our neighbors across the Atlantic.

Austin Tice is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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