At issue is not whether a particular sexual practice among
consenting adults is in fact moral or immoral. At issue is something
¨ Should the government have the power to enter your home and
arrest you for having sex because it regards your sexual desires
¨ The power to enter your laboratory and arrest you for running
a scientific experiment because it regards your research to
¨ The power to enter your business and arrest you for making
money because it regards the profit motive as “wicked”?
At issue is whether the government should have the power to
If you want to live in a free society, the answer is: No.
To answer “No” does not mean we should throw out laws punishing
murder. It means the government’s function is not to become
thought police charged with ensuring that citizens act on correct
ideas. The government’s function is only to stop an individual
from taking action (e.g., murder) that violates the rights of
other individuals. It means that the absolute moral principles
at the foundation of a free society preclude the government
from becoming policeman of morality.
Our Founding Fathers understood that, like any other form of
knowledge, moral knowledge—knowledge of good and evil—requires
a mind free to follow the observed facts and evidence wherever
they lead. They therefore created a political system that protects
the sovereignty of the rational mind—the very source of rights.
Each American has the right to think, to express his thoughts
in conversations, speeches, and books, and then to act on his
thought in pursuit of the values his life and happiness require.
(So long, of course, as he respects the same rights of others.)
He must have these freedoms because knowledge comes not from
obedience to authority but from reason. “Fix reason firmly in
her seat,” Jefferson said, “and call on her tribunal for every
fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence
of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of
the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
To incarcerate John Lawrence because he engaged in homosexual
sex is to do violence to his reason. According to Lawrence’s
judgment, sex with the right, consenting adult represents an
important, moral, life-affirming pleasure. The state demands
that he discard this judgment—or face jail. But to force someone
to obey produces no moral enlightenment in his mind; it only
incapacitates his means of understanding.
Even granting for the sake of argument only that homosexuality
is immoral, in jailing Lawrence and Garner the government does
not persuade them that their action is wrong. It merely makes
them fear believing and acting on what they continue to think
is right. No knowledge, moral or otherwise, can be implanted
by the instruments of coercion. “Force and mind,” in Ayn Rand’s
memorable words, “are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.”
Observe that the need of a mind to be free in order to reach
knowledge implies that it has the right to make mistakes. (You
may think Lawrence and Garner mistaken.) There is no such thing
as the freedom to think so long as you reach “government approved”
ideas. That would make the state guardian of “truth.” That road
leads only to what it always has led to: the non-thought of,
say, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Soviet Russia, or Europe’s Dark
In essence the government of a free society bans only *one*
action—the initiation of physical force—precisely because force
prevents an individual from following the judgment of his mind.
The government of a free society does not seek to control its
citizens’ thoughts by, say, jailing homosexuals or hypocrites.
Its function is to stop other people from violating one’s rights,
not to force them to be good—which is a contradiction in terms.
Force vs. mind, authority vs. reason, obedience vs. thought—that
is what is at issue in Lawrence v. Texas. At the birth of this
great nation Jefferson swore “eternal hostility against every
form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Let us hope today’s Supreme
Court remembers his words. Otherwise, the government’s next
knock on the door may be for me or you.
Onkar Ghate has Ph.D. in philosophy and is a resident fellow
at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org