Eugene Volokh has a brief but sensible essay
about the "forcing moral views" meme.
All of us draw lines in this field, whether at conception, viability,
birth, or whenever else. None of us can prove the validity of those
lines through science or through abstract logic.
Those of us (like me) who draw secular lines shouldn't feel superior to
those who draw religious lines here -- and we certainly shouldn't think
that the Constitution or political morality somehow makes our
linedrawing more proper. We can and should debate, as best we can, where
the lines should be drawn, but we should recognize that at some point it
comes down to the unproven and unprovable, for the secular among us as
well as for the religious. And we should realize that no attempt to
protect children from killing -- wherever you draw the line about what
constitutes a "child" -- can operate without forcing one's moral views
Good point: resorting to the "you want to force your moral values on me"
argument is lazy. If you want to draw the line on a moral issue at a
different place than your opponent, then argue for doing that directly.
I wonder (however) if lines cannot be drawn in a rational place on these
issues; is it really down to the "unproven and unprovable" in all
cases, as Professor Volokh asserts? I'd like to think not.
I like the idea of treating religious moral views with toleration
and respect. But even as I type that, I think of bluenoses and
censors and I desperately want to add the caveat:
just not all of them.
But where to draw the line there?
This seems to be the theme of the day, because Edward Feser
makes a similar point in his essay at Tech
Not all moral principles ought to be enforced by the power
of government, but almost everything government does is based on some
moral principle or other. It is fatuous, then, to hold that "we shouldn't
legislate morality," if this means that controversial moral principles
shouldn't guide public policy. And almost every moral principle is
controversial to a significant extent: even when people agree that
murder is wrong, they often disagree about what counts as murder,
as the disputes over abortion, euthanasia, and even the killing of
animals attest. The question, then, is not whether controversial moral
principles ought to inform our laws, but rather which controversial
moral principles -- liberal, conservative, libertarian, or whatever --
ought to inform them. As the Schiavo case illustrates, it is inevitably
going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to settle these
matters in a way that is going to satisfy all members of a pluralistic
society. But it is no use pretending that the difficulty doesn't exist
-- or that it is only conservative moral scruples that give rise to it.
Fine distinction, but (again) little guidance for the confused folks
(like me) who think it's fine to "legislate morality" for things like
(say) banning infanticide, but not for (say) charity or "substance" use.
And I swear I read something else on this topic earlier, but for
the life of me, I can't find it now. Oh, well, possible update later