ABC-CLIO/Greenwood - Reference

Legislating Morality in America

Debating the Morality of Controversial U.S. Laws and Policies

by Donald P. Haider-Markel, Editor


"You can't legislate morality" is a well-known turn of phrase in American life, but in actuality, many U.S. laws are grounded in perceptions of morality.

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Cover image for Legislating Morality in America

January 2020


Pages 297
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/U.S. Public Policy and Administration
  Current Events and Issues/Society

This title undertakes an impartial, authoritative, and in-depth examination of the moral arguments and ideas behind the laws and policies that govern personal, corporate, and government behavior in the United States.

This A-Z encyclopedia surveys the moral arguments that provide the foundation for many of the most important and/or divisive laws, policies, and beliefs that govern modern American society. The work discusses such controversial and important issues as abortion, civil rights, drugs and alcohol, euthanasia, guns, hate crimes, immigration, immunization, natural resource use and protection, prostitution, same-sex marriage, and workplace laws.

In the process of surveying historical and current beliefs about appropriate legislative responses to these issues, this work will help readers to understand how conservative and liberal conceptions of justice, fairness, and morality are at the center of so many hot-button political and social issues in 21st century America. The essays featured in the volume cover wide-ranging and controversial topics related to constitutional and religious freedoms, issues of crime and punishment, sexuality and reproduction, environmental protection and public health, national security and civil liberties, social welfare programs, and education.


  • Context-setting overview essay introduces the question of whether (or to what degree) legislation inevitably carries a moral element and discusses examples of legislation in US history with a significant alleged "moral" grounding, ranging from the Emancipation Proclamation and Prohibition to anti-smoking laws, the Civil Rights Act, and the Affordable Care Act
  • Each entry not only summarizes economic, legal, and sociological arguments for or against positions on these issues but more importantly focuses on the ethical/moral arguments championed by various sides
  • A chronology of events situates morality historically as a force in US legislation
  • An annotated bibliography suggests resources for further study, related to concepts of morality and their impact on American laws
Author Info

Donald P. Haider-Markel is professor and chair of political science at the University of Kansas. His research and teaching is focused on the representation of interests in the policy process and the dynamics between public opinion, political behavior, and public policy. He has more than 20 years of experience in survey research, interviews, and in policy studies. He has authored or coauthored more than 55 refereed articles, more than a dozen book chapters, and several books on a range of topic areas, including civil rights, politics in the culture wars, criminal justice policy, counterterrorism, race and inequality, and environmental policy.

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