On Legislating Morality

“Life without law is an unthinkable nightmare.”

In his November 29, 1964 radio sermon, Rabbi Olan expounded on the relationship between law and morality. “If we now ask ‘do laws make men moral?’ it is clear that they were never intended to achieve that goal. Instead, the intention of law is to protect the individual in his rights, and define for him his obligations to the community.”

Laws do not make people moral. People must make their own moral choices. In the case of Prohibition, the law led to greater lawlessness. But in many other areas of life, Rabbi Olan taught that good laws can guide people into doing what is right and just until it seems to be just a natural part of life. In this category he placed Civil Rights laws, laws designed to curb the problematic behaviors of juvenile delinquency, and international law attempting to control the dangerous actions of rogue nations.

Rabbi Olan was not a “law and order” hard liner. He taught that mercy also must enter into our judgements. However, this sermon showed that he had a deep respect for the law as a living force for good. He noted that laws must change as society’s needs evolve. Laws are made by people who do not always get it right. We can and must change unjust laws. But disrespect for our legal system and the for rule of law in general is a very grave matter.

“The minority in our midst who insult and berate the judiciary are sowing the seeds of anarchy.”

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Timothy S. Binkley.*