Rev. Mark H. Creech
Vice might be defined as something that negatively impacts one’s behavior patterns so as to not only make one a detriment to themselves, but also to others.
There is a view today, which I suggest is extreme and seeks to avoid even the shadow of government and throw-off all government restraint, even though the first and primary function of government, according to the Scriptures is to “bear the sword” in the judgment and suppression of evil – those behaviors that thwart the purpose of God in us and also work negatively toward our neighbor (Rom. 13:4-6).
This unseemly philosophy says there should be no prohibition on the vices, no prohibition on prostitution, no prohibition on drugs, no regulation or controls on alcohol sales, and no prohibitions on gambling. Many times, those who hold this misguided view will say that such laws don’t work. Typically, they raise the history of the era of Prohibition on alcohol sales to say that limits on any of the vices are futile and failed policies.
I strongly disagree with this conclusion. I think there is a strong argument to be made for the success of Prohibition, even though I am not trying to make the case for bringing it back again – that question has long been settled.
But let me quote two great apologists on this question, the late Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, who astutely wrote the following in their book, Legislating Morality:
Prohibitionists were realistic about their goals. Completely stopping alcohol consumption, while the ideal outcome for the Prohibitionists, was not the sole goal. They realized that if laws could be passed restricting the consumption of alcohol it would have a powerful educative role, a significant restraint on public behavior and attitudes, and an ability to restrain violence through incarceration for the protection of the abused.
What most people don’t realize is that when the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 the average annual rate of hard liquor consumption had been reduced to a few ounces per person. Not until 1975 did American annual per capita alcohol consumption return to pre-Prohibition rates! Coupled with this was the dramatic decline of domestic violence rates, murders, work-place absenteeism that coincided the period of Prohibition.
Contrary to common thought, when considered in the proper light, we can see that Prohibition was not a failure. It did only what any prohibitive law can do.
The reality is that no prohibitive law will succeed in getting everyone to comply with it. Whether we are talking about a prohibition on murder or stopping at a red light at a busy intersection, there will never be complete adherence. But that doesn’t mean we should do away with laws that prohibit certain negative behaviors. They are necessary for curbing harms and protecting public health and safety.
Moreover, what is even more important to understand is that the primary reason for the Prohibition movement of yesteryear, and it remains true at least in principle in other prohibitive laws on vices today, is the fact that the commerce of vices undermines the liberty of ordinary citizens. Where social vices are made legal, marketed and sold, we are giving to one group of citizens permission to subjugate their fellow citizens for their own private gain.
When a bill recently came before the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee to legalize sports gambling in our state, the bill’s champion said the measure was about freedom. I replied in my testimony before the committee:
Whose freedom are we actually talking about? Is this only about the gambler’s liberty to gamble? If it is, then we should also take into account that the gambling industry – the most predatory industry in the country – purposely targets and exploits the financially desperate and cultivates addiction for profits. Ask compulsive gamblers if they feel free. And what about those of us who don’t gamble, but still have to share in the high social costs that come with legalized betting? Gambling operators don’t pay for the harms they cause families, businesses, and communities. Taxpayers do. So, what about the freedom of those of us who choose not to gamble, but are saddled with sharing in its social costs whether we like it or not? What’s free about that?
Legalizing a vice like sports gambling doesn’t work for the liberty of all of us, just the gamers who make suckers of the most of us with our government’s permission and cooperation.
When governments allow the peddling of vice such as illicit addictive substances and practices that significantly affect people’s behavioral patterns that make them a detriment to themselves and the innocents around them, when it legalizes something as prostitution, it enables the human trafficker to advance the most common form of modern slavery.
Liberty is not the repeal of anything deemed to be moral restraint by law.
Yes, someone says, but we shouldn’t be legislating morality. Such is a very tired argument which is completely disconnected from reality. Legislation and public policy don’t operate in a moral vacuum. All public policy is the codification of some moral premise. It is the means by which as a society we agree that this is right and that is wrong, and we have drawn parameters around a moral consensus into law, and we say if you violate these boundaries, we will penalize you, we will fine you, we will even throw you in jail.
No, it’s not that we shouldn’t legislate morality. We do and we always have. Public policy always imposes someone’s value system on all of us whether we like or not.
The great question, however, is whose morality are we legislating?
Will it be the morality of licentiousness, the morality of license, the morality of humanism, the morality of relativism? Or will we use the absolute standards of our Creator as revealed to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the written Word of God, to be our guide and compass?
The Judeo- Christian standard has always worked best for human flourishing and it’s what made America the freest people in the history of mankind.© Rev. Mark H. Creech
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