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Personal beliefs don’t give the right to meddle

Pop quiz: You get word that a bikini bar is soon moving into your community. What do you do?

If you’re the group organizing the protest against the bar, you — as The Tampa Tribune recently reported — pray for a ban on such establishments.

If you’re Dwayne Freeborn, you hold up a sign that reads, “Show Me Your Bikini.”

And if you’re the stereotypical college male, you would join Freeborn if you weren’t already busy smoking the marijuana that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled you could be prosecuted for using even if your doctor prescribed it. But honestly, how many college students are really smoking pot because it is a medical necessity?

Both issues illustrate the controversy that occurs every time some person feels they have the right to use the government to force someone else to abide by their own morality. Another example would be the frequent moves to tax fatty foods or cigarettes because they are deemed bad for people.

It’s only natural that when you think something is wrong you want others to stop doing it. The trouble comes when you go from trying to convince them to change their ways to demanding that the law change their ways for them.

Whether it be wanting to ban bikini bars, pot, cigarettes or fast food, it often tends to further discourage the bikini bar customer, the smoker or the McDonald’s junkie from ever changing their ways. Why? Because they become resentful of those who would use the government to force them to stop. They lose respect for those people who feel entitled from on high to use the government to make them behave morally.

This resentment can be seen in a quote from Freeborn in the Tribune story: “I’m tired of the religious right trying to push their morals on the rest of us.” He added, “There is nothing illegal or wrong with a bikini bar. Priests molest little boys in church. Should we shut down all the churches?”

Because of the misguided actions of well-meaning Christians trying to stop what they see as immoral, Freeborn now has a somewhat skewed view of Christians and has been further alienated from ever seeing their point of view.

Such is the case when well-meaning people decide that they should use government force to enforce their morality. It’s an example of the government going beyond its duty to protect individuals from other individuals and to protect individuals from themselves.

An example of this desire to use the government to protect people from themselves can be seen in a quote from one of the protestors. Brian Williams, who along with a prayer partner, The Tribune reported, “prayed for God to hear them and intercede” in the bikini bar matter, said, “It’s important to me because of the health of the community.” He added, “I don’t see the need for a business of this nature to open.”

And suddenly, because he personally doesn’t see the need for a bikini bar to open because it might be bad for the “health of the community,” he feels the need to pray for a law to enforce his belief. He’s praying for a law that would protect other people — like Freeborn — from themselves.

Instead of acting to impose our moral vision of the world on everyone else, Christians would be better served trying to change one heart and mind at a time instead of one regulation or zoning code at a time.

Trying to reasonably persuade others who Christians believe are behaving immorally to change their ways would better reflect the Biblical advice to speak “the truth in love.” Forcing someone via legislation to do things your way is not how to show them love, but it is certainly one way to show them that you have no respect for their rights.

All of those who feel that they are morally justified in forcing others to change their “evil” ways through government coercion should heed the words of Albert Einstein: “Force always attracts men of low morality.”

Adam Fowler is a USF