Against legislating morality

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There is a question that often comes up in a variety of ways, and boils down to: “Should any government legislate or attempt to legislate morality?” Most people would answer in the affirmative. However that’s where the disagreements and the question of “who’s version of morality is to be used?” begin.

One current attempt in New Hampshire to “legislate morality” – or at least what one co-sponsor of the bill calls “respect for a woman and her innocence and decency” – has made international headlines after an online discussion involving some members of the NH General Court turned into personal attacks. The bill would make is a misdemeanor for a woman, other than a breastfeeding mother, to purposely expose her “areola or nipple… in a public place and in the presence of another person with reckless disregard for whether a reasonable person would be offended or alarmed by such act.”

In New Hampshire, every piece of legislation gets a committee hearing and the legislature then votes to accept or reject the committee recommendation. The Laconia Daily Sun reports Republican majority leader Dick Hinch moved to remove the bill to outlaw female toplessness from the bills to go to committee.
The Sun writes, “Hinch told the House the bill was ‘too controversial’ and noted that the question of public toplessness is before the court, a reference to the case of Heidi Lilley, who was issued a citation by the Gilford Police after baring her breasts on the town beach last summer, which is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
A roll call vote to scuttle the bill failed, 186 to 160.”

Rep. Brian Gallagher, the prime sponsor of the bill, described the ploy by the leadership as “suppression of free speech.” Which is ironic given that his proposal is itself a blatant violation of free speech! The bill, HB1525, provides no exemption for art or acts of protest, both recognized as legitimate forms of freedom of expression.

Aside from the free speech concerns, this is bad policy as it blatantly violates equality under the law. Amanda Bouldin, an opponent of the bill who made the aforementioned headline grabbing facebook post, says, “We shouldn’t be introducing new legislation that only applies to women. If we had any laws that started with the sentence ‘women should not,’ they should have been repealed by now.”

Why should a woman face the possibility of spending up to one year in jail for being in public without a shirt while her male counterparts face no such penalty? This bill is just one more piece of legislation that attempts to enforce one persons morals on everyone else and punish people for an offense that does not cause unjust harm to anyone. Legislators should repeal the countless pages of laws that violate human freedom, and people should legally be allowed to do anything they want, provided only that they not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.

4 thoughts on “Against legislating morality

  1. “Should any government legislate or attempt to legislate morality?” , THE ANSWER IS NO! What a waste of time.
    Maybe we could fine each exposed breast 1 to 10 dollars, BUT, the fine would have to be paid by the TOP 1%

  2. I’ve always found the “legislating morality” argument to be kind of silly.

    To legislatively forbid something is to say that it’s wrong.

    To legislatively require something is to say that it’s right.

    If you’re legislating, you’re legislating morality.

    It’s only just a question, as you note, of whose morality you’re legislating.

    The libertarian insight as it relates to legislation is that limiting legislation to prohibitions on the initiation of force — which is itself legislating morality — leaves people free, as they should be, to tussle out the OTHER moral issues for themselves.

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