Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Moral Foundation for Sunday Closure Laws by Ben Austin

I thought Ben Austin’s summary on Sunday Closure laws from a moral perspective was excellent. He agreed to allow me to post it on my site. It is well worth a few minutes of your time to read. Thanks Ben.


I wish to warn you that the following essay is somewhat lengthy. Many of you will feel that I could have covered each point much more quickly. I acknowledge this, but I chose to develop the ideas slowly and carefully because I wanted to be sure I was thorough. You will also find that Sunday closure is not even mentioned until the very end, but the earlier portions are necessary because they set up the framework for understanding blue laws. These sections are also valuable because they set the stage for discussing other political debates as well, such as the definition of marriage (a topic which I plan to address with my next treatise). I know that the first part of this paper is very philosophical and rather abstract. I do not consider myself an expert in philosophy, but I've tried to model my arguments using C.S. Lewis' writings as an example, so hopefully it will all make sense.


One of the great philosophical debates of our day is the degree to which morality is individually relative. If morality were entirely relative (meaning that none of the generally accepted "moral principles" were universally applicable to all people) then, as shown below, morality would effectively cease to exist.

If any principle is only applicable to some people then such a principle can never be "good" or "bad". The concepts of "good" and "bad" are, by their very nature, inherent qualities.  If the validity of a principle varies from person to person, then there is no inherent element to it so "good" and "bad" are not applicable.

A "moral principle" that is not inherently right nor inherently wrong does not really have any "moral" nature to it. It ceases to be a "moral principle" altogether. And if no principle is moral then morality does not really exist.

Fortunately, virtually all people agree that universally applicable principles do exist. This agreement allows us a moral foundation on which to build our society. This is a blessing for which we should all be grateful. If we had no common morality then we could not create any kind of social order. All things would be utter chaos and governance would be truly impossible.


The idea that a person may infringe upon his fellow man is one principle for which we find virtually unanimous agreement upon its universal nature. It is generally agreed that this concept is inherently wrong and universally false for ALL people.

Based on this "moral principle" we have determined that people can not be permitted to do whatever they please. Some of the things people would like to do are unfair and/or harmful to others, so our moral principle that one should not be allowed to infringe on another means that people can't be allowed to do anything they would like.

How do we prevent people from doing things that infringe on other people? We protect our community by restricting unfair and harmful behaviors through the inaction of laws to prohibit them. The creation end enforcement of these laws that safeguard us is the main purpose of government.


How do we choose the laws that are desirable for us to have? Not only is our legal structure based on the existence of moral principles, but the individual laws within that structure are also based on moral principles. Or at least they ought to be . . .

A law that is not based on a moral principle ought not to be a law at all. Freedom is a precious thing. It must not be tampered with lightly. It is acceptable to curtail freedom when a moral principle demands such limitation. But where no moral principle is involved there is no justification for restricting freedom.

As noted previously, there is significant dispute amongst us as to which principles are MORAL principles. This means that there is also quite a bit of disagreement about which laws are justified and which are not. So how do we decide when it is right to enact a new law?


The simplest solution would be to have a supreme authority on morality as the leader of our government. Many people believe that this will occur someday (when we have a deity as our head of state) but such a situation has not occurred yet. In the meantime we must attempt to determine by consensus which principles are moral.

There are multiple approaches that we could use in obtaining a consensus. One possible method would be to only enact a law when there is unanimous agreement that the underlying principle is indeed a moral one. However, this would make the passing of laws virtually impossible as unanimity is essentially non-existent.

A better approach is to specify a more reasonable percentage of the populace that must agree on a principle's morality in order to form a law. In the United States we require different percentages for different types of actions. Some of the percentages we use are >50%*, >=60%**, >=66.67%***, and >=75%****.

No law is ever passed with less than 50% support. It would be illogical to create a law that most of us disagreed with. Every law requires that some type of majority be in agreement (for some laws we just need a simple majority, but for other actions that are more sensitive we require a more substantial majority).


In an ideal world no person would vote for a law unless he or she believed that the underlying principle was truly moral. Unfortunately, this not always the case. In some instances laws are passed with majority support because a majority likes the law, but not because a majority feels that it is morally necessary.

We have a system in place for correcting these errors as much as possible. A law may be challenged in our courts. The idea is that a small number of cool-headed individuals may be able to recognize when a group of hot-heads have passed a law that is not moral. When judges determine that a law is not based on a moral principle (AKA unconstitutional) then that law may be over-turned. This process has done much to prevent minorities from being tyrannized by majorities who pass laws that are convenient but lacking in moral cause.


In our country the court system has determined that laws requiring businesses to close on Sundays are constitutional (AKA moral) if they are constructed properly and enforced equitably. And what is the moral principle supporting these laws? The right to a bedroom community.

If Sunday closure laws are enacted out of a desire to force one's neighbors to comply with one's own religious standards then such laws ought to be struck down. But if Sunday closure laws are enacted out of a desire to preserve a certain type of environment then such laws are based on a moral principle and should be upheld. Our courts have agreed that not every community needs to be a busy commercial district. When residents wish to preserve a quieter atmosphere then they have every right to do so.

I believe this to be the case in Highland right now. The majority of our residents have shown and do show support for ordinances requiring Sunday closure. In my case this is born out of a desire to have a certain type of atmosphere in my city. I believe that the majority of my neighbors feel the same way for the same reason.

It is true that most of us do believe in keeping the Sabbath day holy. But our political actions are not based on a desire to control our neighbors' Sabbath activities. Instead we vote based on our desire to preserve the environment of our neighborhood. This is something we are entitled to do. And if the majority of Highland's residents wish to have a bedroom community then they have the right to maintain one.

* Example: referendum votes
** Example: filibuster restrictions
*** Example: conviction of impeached officials
**** Example: constitutional amendments

For a list of other articles on this topic click here.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, I enjoyed your essay. If you haven't watched Hillsdale College's Constitution 101 course yet, you'll enjoy it. They cover many of the same topics you do, and you'll love the references and quotes they use.


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