It's a Sin but Should it be a Crime?

It's a Sin but Should it be a Crime?
Posted by FoM on January 09, 2000 at 07:02:23 PT
By Jack Kelly Post-Gazette & The Blade of Toledo
Source: Post-Gazette
We would be a happier people if we made more clear the distinction between sin and crime. Sin is an offense against God. Crime is an offense against man.  Most crimes are also sins, because God tends to judge our devotion to Him by how we treat our fellow men. But relatively few sins are, or ought to be, crimes. God will one day judge sinners in a court of His choosing. It smacks of double jeopardy to punish sinners in temporal courts as well.
Our system of government is derived from the principles of Protestant Christianity. Neither liberty nor democracy will survive for long if we depart much further from them. But liberty also is threatened when we rely upon coercion to promote moral values, and we gain little from this effort. Laws against immorality tend to be futile in the absence of a social consensus supporting morality, and unnecessary if such a consensus exists.If we criminalize only that conduct that harms others or threatens public safety, we can create a social atmosphere in which tolerance can flourish. Government would neither be shoving morality down the throats of some, or offending the morality of others.I am thinking here chiefly of the so-called "victimless crimes" of gambling, prostitution and drug use. All three can accurately be described as ubiquitous, despite a host of statutes against them. And we step into the quicksand of hypocrisy when we attempt to enforce these laws.Why are state lotteries - where the odds of winning are much less than at nickel slots - "good," while casino gambling is "bad"?What is the moral difference between the hooker on the corner flagging motorists, and the pretty young thing who marries a rich old guy for his money, or the executive who sleeps with her boss to get a promotion? And which is the greater threat to public morals: a section in a city like Hamburg's Reeperbahn where prostitution is legal? Or television sitcoms which glorify loveless sex?In spite of - in some respects because of - the unstinting efforts of courageous law enforcement officials, the drug cartels are larger and more diffuse than ever; more cocaine and heroin are entering the United States, and marijuana has become our No. 1 cash crop. All we have to show for our interminable "war on drugs" are some appalling intrusions upon our civil liberties and the destabilization of several Latin American countries. We treat consumers of illegal drugs as if they were victims, and producers and distributors as if they were the most heinous of criminals. But drugs do such harm as they do only when they are ingested. If all people did was carry lumps of cocaine around like pet rocks, no harm would be done. As it is, most of the social harm we attribute to drugs is more a product of their being illegal than of what people do under their influence.Those who favor criminalizing sin say people need to be protected from themselves. But there are all sorts of destructive behaviors - voting Democratic, for instance - we would never dream of making illegal. If we start criminalizing behaviors which are not in themselves threatening to others, where do we stop? Some health nazis want to ban tobacco. Others would prohibit SUVs, or the wearing of fur. There is no shortage of people who want to tell others how to live.Decriminalization of sin could lead to more effective social sanctions. It's no business of the government if unmarried people - even unmarried people of the same sex - wish to cohabit. But no apartment owner who believes such behavior is immoral should be required to rent to them. We may decide it is unsound public policy to imprison people who use drugs. But employers should be permitted to express their disapproval in their hiring and promotion policies.The political scientist Harold Lasswell coined the terms "public order" and "civic order" to distinguish between government and the web of private decisions and voluntary associations that constitute the stuff of everyday life. The public order is government. The civic order is family, neighborhood, church, business enterprises and labor unions, professional associations, civic groups.The public order is the nation's club. But the civic order is the nation's conscience. We must provide enough latitude for that conscience to operate.Published: Sunday, January 09, 2000Post-Gazette Online
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by Happy on January 10, 2000 at 18:08:21 PT:
GOD gave us pot, it is not a sin.
Like incense in a temple, pot is not immoral. There are many religions and icons that use cannabis as GOD intended, and many of us to. When you endanger life, you have sinned. Thanks for making the distinction about this legislated morality.Peace & Love,Happy
The Happyhouse Church
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: