He may never be president, but thank God for Alan Keyes. In the age of the Great Equivocator, he at least knows how to answer an inane question with the disrespect it deserves. At an earlier forum for Republican presidential candidates, the moderator asked Keyes: "Do you really believe we can legislate morality?" It's bad enough that the question, silly and shallow as it is, refuses to go away. What makes it intolerable is that people still ask it with the smug assurance of a third-grade teacher's pet.
The fact is we legislate morality every day, and no one seriously would have it otherwise. Isn't affirmative action a moral issue? Child pornography? Second-hand smoke? The death penalty? What else but morality would drive us to channel billions of dollars so inefficiently through the Washington labyrinth in the muddy-minded hope that some scraps will fall from the bureaucrats' banquet to the mouths of the poor?
Asking for law without morality is like asking for food without farming. You might get something, but you probably won't recognize it, and it surely won't be good for you. Keyes could have politely said as much and been done with it. But to his credit, he took on the real question, the question the moderator most likely wanted to ask, and he did it bluntly. "When are you going to stop asking that stupid question?" Keyes replied. "We don't just legislate morality in this country, but in the welfare system we legislate Christian morality." Amen! The real issue isn't whether somebody's morality is going to be legislated. We're just debating whose morality it's going to be.
Which brings us to the real issue: Does the religious right have any business mixing its faith with its politics? What's offensive to many people is that some Christians want to see society endorse and codify a particular set of religiously inspired moral principles-silly things generally, like protecting children from filth, reforming an anti-family tax code and keeping government money out of immoral industries such as gambling and abortion.
Critics of these positions object to other people "imposing their religious beliefs on the rest of us." But they seem to have no problem with the religious inspiration behind the whole civil rights movement. It was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one may recall. For that matter, the abolitionist movement was largely a religious crusade, dismissed by no less than 19th-century politician Stephen Douglas on precisely the grounds that it was an attempt to impose religious morality on the populace. Civil libertarians worked up over Singapore-style corporal punishment might consider that American criminal justice was more than a little raw before the Quakers launched the penitentiary movement.
Like it or not, the core values of the entire American experiment come from Judeo-Christian ethics. If you don't believe it, try to envision the Maya standing around waiting for the next human sacrifice and discussing the dignity of the individual. Or think about this: There is a tribe in Sudan known as the Dinka, for whom human sacrifice is still very much a part of life. What would happen if some of these people decided to relocate in, say, Atlanta and continue their practice of burying their spear masters alive? It's entirely voluntary, mind you. The participants are all adults who willingly offer themselves in the hope of gaining a better afterlife. Who are we to impinge on their right to do this? If the terminally ill have a right to assisted suicide, why not the Dinkas?
Politics is a moral enterprise, and morality is meaningless without a religious foundation. Alan Keyes apparently understands this. America ignores it at its peril.
Luke Andrews is a first-year law student. This article was originally published in The Atlanta Journal/Constitution.