Morality and Legality must be separate.

Last Updated: Sunday, 30 September 2012 Published: Wednesday, 14 March 2012 Written by Communications Club

What do you think are ‘Morality’, and ‘Legality’? Should they be kept separate or do they address the same issues. This age old debate was put to our Communications Club in this year’s Kiwanis debate competition. We did not win but our argument is without a doubt a very good one. We invite you to read the debate and maybe it might just trigger a new or different way of viewing these terms. Our debaters were: Alex-Maree Roberts and Kerissa St. Rose. Congratulations girls on a job well done.  Read, Think and Enjoy!




Speaker 1 – Alex-Maree Roberts (4-A)



A heartfelt good afternoon to you, Mr. Moderator, esteemed judges, fellow debaters, teachers, students, ladies and gentlemen.


This afternoon I am proposing the topic “Morality and legality must be separate”.


Simply what I am proposing to you is that – your standard, your ethics and or your conscience, whatever it is that makes you determine whether an action or omission is right or wrong or that a behavior is proper or improper is different from and must be kept apart from what the law mandates to be right or wrong. In essence morality must not be legislated.


The foundation of the arguments which I will propound in support of my position is established in an elucidation of the key terms of the proposition morality and legality must be separate. These terms are “morality, legality and separate”.


According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, morality is principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior and legality, on the other hand is the quality or state of being in accordance with the law.


The word separate, is defined by as ‘unconnected; distinct; unique, existing or maintained independently, individual or particular’.


It is based on these definitions that I present to you three reasons why morality and legality must be separate.


These reasons are:


  1. They emanate from different sources and vary in application.
  2. If morals were to colour legal proceedings excessively, there would be little to no justice; and
  3. Legality cannot serve as qualification for any act to be counted

as moral.


Perhaps the most compelling reason why morality and legality must be separate is that morality and legality emanate from different sources and vary in application.


Esteemed judges, where does our morality come from? Morality is not defined by any individual, institution or organization.  Morality is a self-imposed code of conduct. Morality is ingrained in us from birth by our families, religious persuation and school when we were taught what is moral and what is immoral. It became second nature to us. Morality is personal to each of us and can only be supported by our conscience or by social condemnation. Importantly, morality is not something we can alter as we please. Morality is learned.  When we do moral acts, we do not do so because we are mandated too but because we know right from wrong.

Legality on the other hand – is a legal principle that all laws must be clear, ascertainable and non-retrospective.  It refers to how the justice system should be conducted according to the rule of law.

When we obey the law we are acting in accordance with the law. Where do these laws come from?

Legality is defined by reference to a standard decided by humans.  That standard is enacted into law by our legislators and by the judiciary. Yes, the judges make law too. They do so to resolve matters where there is no legislation.

Thus judges and the legislators decide what is or is not legal in the country that is what actions that the law considers to be right or wrong. It is the law that gives legality to our actions and behaviour. These laws are not personal to the individual. Law is universal to all. We all obey the law because it demands that we do and we know that if we don’t obey we will attract penalties like imprisonment.

By virtue of the fact that morality emanates from our socialization of what is right and what is wrong, our religious beliefs and cultural values, it is reasonable to conclude that while most individuals in a society may share common values there are others who may have divergent moral values from the rest of the persons in society.

Morality varies widely among any country’s population, whereas legality is certain. Thus an individual’s morality may lead him to determine that an act is wrong but that same act may be regarded as moral by someone else. It is not so with the law. When an act is prohibited by law, its’ prohibition applies to everyone.

Esteemed Judges, look at our present day Dominican society, we see that it is comprised of individuals of different ethnic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds.

All the people who comprise the Dominican society have been socialized in different ways. They are all different in their thinking and attitudes. They all have their own personal moral code to which they adhere and all have different views of what is right and wrong, as they are entitled to have. They will behave as their own moral code deems it fit but subject to the laws of the country. Everyone is entitled to their moral values but this is so only to the extent that it does not conflict with the law.

Right to life activists may advocate for the abolition of the death penalty because of their moral values influenced by their religion.  However, family members of a murdered victim may have no such moral inclination and may even hold the view that it is moral to avenge the death of their loved ones by killing the accused. In such cases we see a society of persons with different moral standards in respect of the death penalty.

But it is the law which must be upheld. Which moral value should influence the law? In such a case morality and legality must be separate and stand clear of each other. If morality and legality was not separate, either the laws would have to make allowances for everyone’s morality or everyone’s morality would have to be the same. Neither of these scenarios makes any sense.

The law regarding the death penalty should have its own rationale. It must be based on its effectiveness in serving justice.

I maintain -  morality and legality must be separate.



Esteemed judges, my most worthy opponents, I wish now to argue the second point which I am proposing this afternoon to support my position that morality and legality must be separate and that is that if morals were to “colour” our legal proceedings excessively, there would be little to no justice.

Now what does this mean? This means in essence that if morality and legality are not separate then morality could influence the legality of actions and undesired results would obtain.

Let us firstly consider the legislative process. Imagine, esteemed judges, that a bill is being promulgated into law to criminalise homosexuality. There are male and female legislators in the House all of varying elasticities and religious backgrounds.

All the male legislators are of the view that homosexuality between men is more horrendous than homosexuality between women and want a stiffer penalty to be imposed on men. If the law is passed reflecting the moral positions of there men would that law be legal? No, it would not because it would be discriminating against men.

In the courtroom a judge may feel strongly against the incarceration of young people below the age of 19 and refuse to impose a custodial sentence on a young man even when the circumstances of his crime mandated that he be imprisoned.

Consider also the trial of a polygamous Muslim with another Muslim on the jury panel. What would be his reaction to the crime? The law criminalizes polygamy but his moral values state that it is moral to live a polygamous life.  A Catholic, however, would have no such conflict since both moral values and law would agree.

The purpose of law is to provide a fair set of punishments and judgments on definite wrongs which the law itself prohibits. The law applies to every citizen in its country. Morality however, provides a set of ideals for an individual to apply to his or her own lives to govern his or her own behavior. Aren’t these two concepts separate? They most definitely are! With morals as the meter by which wrong-doing is judged, there would be no justice. Every juror would have a different view. Penalties would vary from death to maybe even dismissal of the case. If morality was applied in the courtroom, there would be little or no justice.




The third point that I submit to you in support of my proposition that morality and legality should be separate is that it would be impracticable to enforce morality.  There are several problems that would attend to enforcing morality.


The fusion of morality and legality would call for the enforcement of moral standards and penalization of its breach. This will be aptly explained by examples.


As Christians we believe that our lives are our greatest value. Should we then enact legislation prohibiting suicide? How would it be enforced.


Similarly, while in some countries homosexual relations have been legitimized, here in Dominica, save for the offense of sodomy, our laws are neutral on the issue. Many persons in Dominica still frown on homosexual relations as being morally wrong.


A fusion of morality and legality in respect of homosexual conduct would lead to undesirable results. In most cases homosexual relations are practiced by consenting adults, generally in private. If the moral values regarding homosexuality held by the persons in our society were to be legislated and the acts criminalized, how would that moral law be enforced? Who would be the complainant? Who would give evidence? Would we have to establish a police state to enforce the laws?


We should also consider the fact that not all persons in our society believe homosexual relations is immoral. They may be in the minority but they are there nonetheless. How would we treat our economic citizens who come to our shores from countries where homosexual relations have been legalized? Do we discriminate against them?


Individuals should be left to adopt and adhere to their own moral standards. I reiterate that morality and legality must be separate.




Finally, let me repeat that - Morality and legality must be separate because they are two distinct concepts.  They can never refer to one and the same thing.  I have posited that the two will never flow in the same channel.

Morality allows us to make sense of our world.  It allows us to govern ourselves by what we have accepted as right or wrong.  The concept of legality on the other hand merely gives us a principle on which to judge our laws.  Legality will argue that a man cannot be punished for money he steals from his company if the criminal law has failed to make it a punishable crime.

But listen to this well, morality teaches us as a cultural and social norm that stealing is wrong and hence the action of the man is wrong.  From this example it is clear that we are dealing with two different outcomes.

Morality and legality must be separate.


Thank You



Speaker 2 – Kerissa St. Rose (2-2)


A hearty good afternoon to all. I request permission to adopt the protocol established by my colleague as I present to you three more points supporting our argument that legality and morality must be separate:

1.  Morality is a multi-faceted entity whereas legality is two dimensional in nature.

2.  The law changes to suit the times whereas morality is staunch.

3.  Legality allows for the voice of all people to be heard, whereas morality only matters for a few.

To begin with, unlike legality, morality differs from country to country and person to person as it is influenced by attributes such as religion, economy and culture and as a result, comes to be a multi-faceted entity.  On the other hand, legality which measures laws that apply to constitution by which a country is governed is concrete and wholly un-affected by the views and opinions of the people who live by them, not only on a domestic front but especially in the cases of international laws and conventions on issues such as rights of the child, laws of engagement and human rights.

In a court of law, like cases demand-like treatment, and in order for justice to be freely and properly administered, any crime committed must be repaid with the related punishment, despite whoever may be involved. As the saying goes – “you do the crime, you must pay the time!”  From a moral standpoint, the punishment might be influenced by certain factors such as motive and circumstance which may either worsen or lessen the severity by which a person is reprimanded. To illustrate this point, I wish to use the example by which thieves are dealt with in Arabian countries.  Anyone who steals from a market stall will be rewarded by losing a hand, regardless of their social standing or economic status.  In retrospect, let us say Mr. Moderator that the thief is a wealthy person, surely members of society would label this person as greedy, a glut in need of some justice. However, if the person were poor and hungry and theft is his or her’s only means of maintaining survival, some people might be moved by pity to reduce, if not eradicate the punishment. Mister Moderator, Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor – a noble mandate, a moral one as the people were being overtaxed in Nottingham, but by no means a legal action as theft, by Nottingham law, was wrong.

Moreover, the law may change to fit the society’s needs at the moment but morals stay the same. If the crime rate in a country, increases there may be a great chance that the law may change not to legalize crime but to legitimate persecution. The law will change but not the people’s morals. If there is a law against polygamy, then a man of Islam religion will still believe that there is nothing wrong with it since his religion permits polygamy.

To strengthen this point, let us pay close attention to what a few legislators have to say on the matter. According to W. J. Brown in his book GCSE Law Seventh Edition,

“The key characteristics of law are – compulsory – law formally states the behaviour that is acceptable and that is unacceptable and there is no choice about which laws are to be obeyed, enforcement – laws do not need to be enforced by social pressure, and timing – law can be created very quickly, not like morals, which can take even a thousand years to develop.”

showing that law and legality are independent of morality. Furthermore, J. O‘Riordan says in his book A2 Law for AQA

“The key characteristics of morals are voluntary;every person has different views and most of them hold differences of moral views with the closest friends and families; informal enforcement –morals are enforced by informal sanctions, issues – most moral places involve informing, persuading or forcing people in communities on how they need to behave, and time scale – to develop the morals may take even thousand years, this is because of the deep religious and social history.

Clearly, Mister Moderator, morality and legality must be kept separate!


Lastly, the voice of the people should be heard through the law while morality is only applicable to a limited number of persons. The law is enforced by the state whereas morals are enforced by one’s own societal group. To act in all essence, morally, is what one does because it is believed by whatever group one prescribes to as the right thing to do. It is based on values and principals shaped by one’s upbringing, or guided by one’s belief and faith. Simply, it is what one knows in one’s heart to be good and true.

In support of this point, I wish to use this example. Right now in Dominica, the question of making Sunday a normal work day is very much in the public arena.  As of present, forcing work on a Sunday without double time pay is illegal. Ergo, through the law, work on a Sunday is discouraged – Sunday is considered a public holiday for all. The Dominica Christian Council, when they got wind of the mere suggestion, immediately released a statement to the effect that it is morally and ethically wrong to make work on Sunday mandatory or otherwise – Sunday is a holy day, a Sabbath. Now, Mister Moderator, a Roman Catholic, if this law is ever to be amended, may follow the law as directed that he should work on Sundays, making him a law abiding citizen. However, he may feel morally disobliged to do so as Sunday is the Sabbath and he has been taught by the Roman Catholic Church that people should keep it holy. In retrospect, what of the Seventh Day Adventist? Saturday, a day of time and a half by law, is in all essence a normal working day. But, Honourable Judges, the Seventh Day Adventist, though required by law to work on that day may feel morally disobliged to do so. In other words, he is committing an immoral act.

Keeping in mind that morals are enforced through societal groupings, one can clearly see that the legality will prevail in this matter as Sunday is considered by law as note, not a Sabbath or holy day but as a public holiday. And, Mister Moderator, a holiday is a holiday – it does not discriminate. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the voice of the people has indeed been heard and accounted for by the law – the legislation of Sunday as a public holiday still stands. It must be noted however, that in a country where traditions differed, the law may well stipulate that Saturday or any other day be that weekly public holiday. CONCLUSION

As can be seen, these 3 additional points undoubtedly support the case that legality and morality must be separate.

1.  Morality is a multi-faceted entity which takes all views, opinions and mitigating factors into consideration whereas legality is 2-dimensional in nature, treating each case the same as the other

2.  The law changes to suit the time and, for that matter, can be changed overnight whereas morality is staunch and make take decades to evolve

3.  Legality allows for the voice of all the people to be heard whereas morality only matters to a few – one can be a law abiding citizen without being a moral person

People are joined together as a country through the law and people are joined together as a group through morals. To further emphasize this point, let us pay close attention to what theologiest P. Delvin as quoted by C. Eliot and F. Quinn in their book Law for AQA says:

“Morals are a set of basic principles, which should be followed by the legislature. First, people should be allowed as much freedom as possible with the integrity of society and their privacy should be respected. Secondly, punishment should be given to those who create disgust between ‘right-minded’ people. Thirdly, the law should establish a minimum standard of morality; society should have higher standards.”

In other words, where the law ends, morality truly begins. What is condemned by law may well be considered moral by the average man on a personal level just as well as what is considered lawful many be condemned by the statutes of morality.


Finally Honourable Judges, let it be said here that it is nigh on impossible to completely divorce law and morals as the “right minded” people who make the laws, by the virtue of human nature inadvertently reflect the morals of the masses in these laws. However, let it also be said here that if all morals of all people were to be represented in the law, and keeping in mind that each person’s morals are different, then there would be no standard by which every citizen of a country could be measured and judged.



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