Morality cannot be legislated

By John Tripe


A correspondent asks what else we have to say about human rights in the face of human nature and physiology.

Legislation for human rights is surely the product of an immoral society - unhappy companion to our common law heritage, which precedes the Reformation. The Church once had a monopoly in education, if not in godliness, and it taught from the book most readily available.

Now the law is ever enlarged by parliamentary process, moved by populism and political science. Personal behaviour is not a popular subject in education, at least if set against personal freedom. One thing is sure - human rights have no meaning without obligations. We cannot make morality by law - we have to live it and learn it.

So what are we saying? We shouldn't need to make law about human rights - fundamental in common law, mutual respect and civilisation. They are the second commandment - but 'me first' isn't new. Our human nature resists commands, and many of us have learned as children rather to fight for ourselves - at best to obey the law and then, where law doesn't go, to take all we can get.

So now we have the Human Rights Act to set minimum standards of public behaviour, and of course the Crimes Act which limits actual violence to person and property.

But there's nothing in the law about personal integrity or not being nasty to one another, and not much about doing good. Even now, we may need law to stop bullying on the internet - if possible!

The Act prohibits public 'discrimination' - different treatment of persons according to their natural or social circumstances - race, colour, age, sex; mental or physical condition; marital status and religious belief: and maintains freedom of speech.

There's nothing to protect blondes or redheads, or the tall or short or overweight - from personal abuse; and nothing effective to guard the safety of children and families.

In the best of worlds, we should be able to rely on human decency, and not need law about human rights.

John Tripe is principal with the Wanganui legal firm of Jack Riddet Tripe.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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