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Benjamin Franklin, statesman and signer of our Declaration of Independence, said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” John Adams, another signer, echoed a similar statement: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Are today’s Americans virtuous and moral, or have we become corrupt and vicious? Let’s think it through with a few questions.
Suppose I saw an elderly woman painfully huddled on a heating grate in the dead of winter. She’s hungry and in need of shelter and medical attention. To help the woman, I walk up to you using intimidation and threats and demand that you give me $200. Having taken your money, I then purchase food, shelter and medical assistance for the woman. Would I be guilty of a crime? A moral person would answer in the affirmative. I’ve committed theft by taking the property of one person to give to another.
Most Americans would agree that it would be theft regardless of what I did with the money. Now comes the hard part. Would it still be theft if I were able to get three people to agree that I should take your money? What if I got 100 people to agree — 100,000 or 200 million people? What if instead of personally taking your money to assist the woman, I got together with other Americans and asked Congress to use Internal Revenue Service agents to take your money? In other words, does an act that’s clearly immoral and illegal when done privately become moral when it is done legally and collectively? Put another way, does legality establish morality? Before you answer, keep in mind that slavery was legal; apartheid was legal; the Nazi’s Nuremberg Laws were legal; and the Stalinist and Maoist purges were legal. Legality alone cannot be the guide for moral people.
The moral question is whether it’s right to take what belongs to one person to give to another to whom it does not belong.
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