By Katherine Green Robertson
July 4, 2016, A recent poll conducted by Dr. George Barna systematically explored America’s “shift in values.” Predictably, those polled value comfort, happiness, and acceptance, but they also claim to value independence, control, and freedom. These same respondents–including six out of seven “born again Christians”–professed a “personalized moral code,” that is, that they believe moral choices should be based on their own feelings. Only 10 percent of respondents said that they believe in absolute moral truth. Tragically, many of those polled seem to miss the direct link between freedom and the foundational morality of America–the cornerstone of our republic.
John Adams wrote to his cousin, “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” The Founders knew that no president, nor any number of laws, could ensure the preservation of liberty; that, even in its genius, the Constitution would not be good enough to withstand a national loss of morality. Why? Because the Constitution established a government that was hands off in order to maximize freedom. The Founders knew that if the American people did not possess moral character, that if they were irresponsible with their freedom and did not police themselves, then more laws and regulations would be required. They understood that when government grows, freedom shrinks.
Many Americans who say that they desire freedom mean freedom from morality. “Don’t tread on me” has been misshaped into “anything goes,” but this has not led to true freedom. In fact, an absence of morality weakens our basic freedoms of speech, religion, and enterprise and produces societal problems like the breakdown of the family (which leads to poverty and government dependency), increased crime and addiction (leading to incarceration), and a lack of integrity in business (which leads to costlier regulations)–all losses of freedom. “Society cannot exist,” Edmund Burke wrote, “unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.”
The Constitution and our first laws were the embodiment, not the source, of the morality of the Founders. Yet our loathing of absolute morality, combined with the increasing role of government, now leaves us actually looking to laws for adjudging right behavior. Consider the latest Planned Parenthood debacle: because a loophole in federal law meant that the selling of babies’ body parts was technically legal, this grotesque practice was defended and ultimately undisturbed. Even in Alabama, the supposed heart of the Bible Belt, state leaders have defended poor choices, without regard to morality, by saying that “no laws were broken.”
Undoubtedly, devaluing morality has cost us, not just culturally, but in actual dollars. Taxpayers spend billions of dollars on prisons and corrections as we protest virtue and morality in the public square. Government spends billions of taxpayer dollars attempting to care for the poor in ways that rob individuals of purpose and dignity and interfere with community-based benevolence. We sink billions of dollars into public schools that are essentially asked to make up for the problems caused by the family breakdown, but then refuse to allow them to teach morality or character. Even a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt understood that, “to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
Our desires for independence and control cannot logically lead us to desire freedom from morality, truth, and virtue. As Patrick Henry put it, “A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
Morality is indispensable to freedom. As we celebrate our freedom this 4th of July, let’s ignite a return to and recoupling of these values, starting at home.
Katherine Green Robertson is Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.