The Place of “Morality” in Public Policy
Morality can’t be legislated, the timeworn saying goes.
Two initiatives in circulation appear to attempt to do that — without defining what constitutes “moral.”
Like “reform,” morality tends to be in the eye of the beholder.
The two initiatives, which require 504,670 valid signatures before June 11 to qualify for the November ballot, use the word “moral” a total of eight times. Yet offer no definition.
One measure would allow public school students to be “excused” from listening to any part of “health, social science and family life” classes in which the topic conflicts with the “religious training and beliefs” as well as ”moral convictions” of either the pupil or their parents.
“Parenting is very important and highly personal especially in moral and religious matter,” the initiative says.
“Parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s intellectual and moral maturity and they provide a zone of sovereignty, a moral space to fulfill their obligations according to their consciences.”
The second initiative would repeal a recently signed law that requires social sciences curriculum to include the study of the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”
Also added to the social science curriculum by the same legislation are “persons with disabilities.”
The initiative’s proponents would not excise the disabled or any of the other categories of individuals required to be included in social studies: “men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans … and members of other ethnic and cultural groups.”
Apparently, studying about their roles and contributions is “moral.”
But what if they are gay, lesbian or bisexual as well as African American or Asian American, for example? Would their sexual orientation trump ethnicity?
The initiatives are sponsored by the Committee to Repeal SB 48 – the measure by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, broadening the social studies curriculum – and the Committee for Parental Rights In Education.
Both groups are located at 3407 Arden Way in Sacramento.
The proponent of both initiatives is Richard Rios who is the chairman of the Orange County based Christian Coalition of California.
The “About Us” part of the group’s website – whose motto is ‘In God We Trust’—says their purpose is to:
“Advocate the application of Christian values and principles to public policy that promotes the general welfare and enhance(s) the standard of living for all Americans. These issues include tax policy, education, environment, health care and strengthening of the family unit.”
The group notes it is a nonprofit “committed to promoting and pursuing the application of Christian principles to public policy … devoid of partisan politics.”
It offers “reasonable conservative solutions to issues that confront government at both the state and federal level.”
Nowhere on the page does the word “moral” appear. Or “morality” for that matter.
California law is somewhat amorphous in defining what constitutes “moral.”
Merriam-Webster offers several definitions of “moral,” including:
“Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior, expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior and conforming to a standard of right behavior.”
As set by who?
In the main, California law makes no determination of what is “moral” but it has promulgated tens of thousands of prohibitions in the civil and criminal codes, which, if ignored, represent “wrong” behavior.
The State Bar, however, insists in Rule X of the Rules Regulating Admission to Practice Law in California that:
“Every applicant shall be of good moral character. The term ‘good moral character’ includes the qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the laws of the state and the nation and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process. The applicant has the burden of establishing that he or she is of good moral character. (Emphasis added.)
Defining “moral turpitude” has also been problematic.
“An elusive concept incapable of precise general definition,” the state supreme court said in In Re. Higbie, a 1972 disciplinary hearing against a lawyer.
The court did take a stab at a definition in a 1938 case, In Re. Craig:
“Moral turpitude has been defined by many authorities as an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”
Based on California law for the last 35 years, sexual orientation is not a “moral” issue for the state, turpitude or otherwise.
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