The United Nations Shouldn't Legislate Morality

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On Friday afternoon, as you and I were powering down our computers and preparing to head home, the United Nations General Assembly was working.

That alone may be newsworthy. In this case, it is even more so because the 192-member world body was working on something good. They adopted by consensus a resolution condemning the denial of the Holocaust.

The U.N.'s action coincided with their International Day of Commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust, but its intent was more than ceremonial. The United States, Israel, and the 102 other state sponsors wanted the world to see Iran take another step toward self-isolation. They got what they wanted; Iran was the sole state to reject the resolution. Its delegate, Hossein Gharibi, offered some sophistry to try to explain their shame:

"Only by studying objectively what happened in the past, can we ensure that such crimes will never be repeated again […]"

While the United Nation's condemnation of Holocaust deniers is admirable and their wider, political objective to highlight the danger of a nuclear Iran is necessary, I do have reservations about the efficacy and ethics of government bodies — domestic or international — legislating good thinking and behavior. The U.N. member states did not go quite this far on Friday, but in my opinion they came eerily close to crossing the line.

Maybe I'm sensitive to government intrusion because I live in Europe, where socialism is king and political correctness is the only universally accepted virtue. The result of such a mindset is a string of socially “sensitive” laws designed to make lawmakers look avant-garde and avoid the ire of pressure groups. In Austria, for example, public denial of the Holocaust by a citizen or a visitor is a crime. Less than a year ago David Irving, an English crackpot historian, was sentenced to three years in prison for denying the existence of Nazi gas chambers in a speech and interview he gave in Austria in 1989.

In the United States, we would follow a different approach. We would ridicule him on cable news, boycott his speeches, and send him out to pasture as a wannabe intellectual with delusions of self-importance. While this may not be the best approach, it is a whole lot better than the European model.

The dilemma about the government's role in legislating good thinking and behavior doesn't begin and end with what to do about anti-Semites. In 2004 the European parliament forced Rocco Butiglione, the Italian nominee for the position of Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner, to step down because of his personal, religious beliefs that homosexual behavior is sinful.

The rationale behind such heavy-handed actions and laws, no matter the particular case, is, in my opinion, deeply flawed. It presupposes the best way to make people “good” is by legislating morality.

Even in such a clear-cut case of shameful behavior like that of denying the Holocaust, the government must act according to the mandate it has received. Its job is not to oblige people to be good for goodness sake, but rather to seek the common good within strict parameters. Such parameters begin with the protection of human rights, including the freedom of expression and belief.

The United Nations did well on Friday to condemn Holocaust deniers and to bring to light the danger of a Nuclear Iran. We must be attentive, however, to forbid any government body — domestic or international — from legislating morality according to its own ideas of what makes some people good and others bad. In this respect, we should be especially wary of the United Nations General Assembly. It doesn't always work, and when it does, it rarely works for the good.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. On Thursday, I will post some of your responses to today’s article, as well as the two articles from last week, “Hillary’s Campaign Strategy” and “A Humble State of the Union." It will be an interesting exchange, for sure!

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