America the Beautiful. It’s one of the few American patriotic hymns in the Mormon Hymn book. And it’s one of my favorite; every time I sing the line “confirm thy soul in self-control; thy liberty in law” I can’t help but wonder “what does the religious right think about those words?”
A clearer or more succinct summary of liberalism has never been written. It is not the role of government to dictate to its citizens any particular moral/religious philosophy (no matter how loudly the holders of any particular philosophy claim that theirs is superior to all others.) The law should be used to create a landscape of liberty, where every individual can use their freedom to the maximum extent possible (i.e. everyone should be permitted to do anything they want as long as it doesn’t impact someone else’s freedom to do what they want.) Moral control should be (and I would argue can only be) self-control. It is only when an individual has the freedom to not follow a moral code, but uses their freedom to follow a moral code that they are being moral. In other words, I’m only moral when I have the freedom to be immoral, but exercise my freedom not to be. When so called moral behavior is required by law, individuals lose their freedom to be truly moral. Not to mention it is only by allowing others to live by their own moral codes that we can expect them to let us live by ours.
From abortion to homosexuality, it seems like the conservative approach to all of the so called “moral” issues is to take their idea of what is moral and then use the force of law to require everyone else to live their lives in accordance with it. Not exactly confirming your soul with self-control, now is it?
And what about confirming your liberty in law? The Bush administration’s willingness to circumvent the constitution system of check and balances, ignore our freedoms from unreasonable search and seizure, deny habeas corpus, and disregard restraints on cruel and unusual punishment show that even constitutional guarantees can be imperiled when the public is willing to trade their birthright of liberty for the potage of security. It seems to me that the conservatives have it backwards – trying to confirm the soul with law, and leaving liberty to the tenuous self-control of those in power.