Pandora’s Box

Future archeologists examining the artifacts of late twentieth-century America will undoubtedly conclude that our culture was obsessed with sex. It would be a natural conclusion just from looking at our films, books, television—and especially our laws. Today, American law embraces sex as the sunam bonum of human existence. This legal infatuation with sex began early in the century, when birth control pioneers like Margaret Sanger tried to make contraceptives legally available. Sanger’s efforts met with only modest success. But in 1965, Sanger’s latter-day disciples finally hit paydirt. In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court held that barring married couples from access to contraceptives violated their constitutional right to privacy. The problem is, the word privacy doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution. The Court had in fact created a constitutional right out of thin air. Though Griswold was filled with odes to the sanctity of the marriage bed, it soon became clear that the Court’s real concern was protecting, not marriage, but the bed. How did this become clear? Because two subsequent rulings, Eisenstadt and Carey, extended the right to contraception to unmarried couples and even to juveniles. Unmarried sexual relations were now to be “protected” from any legal restrictions. In barely a decade, the Court had gone from claiming to protect marital privacy to in fact protecting sex between unmarried people. It was Griswold that ultimately made legalized abortion possible. In Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun reasoned that if a woman has a right not to conceive, she also has a right to end a pregnancy even after conception. In recent years, the Court solidified the abortion right by moving it onto more solid constitutional grounds. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court dropped all talk about privacy and shifted to a word actually found in the Constitution: It redefined abortion as a liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court then defined liberty as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” With those 21 words, the Court opened a Pandora’s box. It made sexual behavior an expression of one’s personal concept of the meaning of the universe—and thereby insured that no sexual behavior could be legally restricted. As Justice Scalia wrote, the Court’s definition of liberty could include “homosexual sodomy, polygamy, [and] adult incest.” Just four years later, in Romer v. Evans, the Court overruled a Colorado law prohibiting special rights for homosexuals. In essence, the majority denied that there could be any moral reason for opposing homosexuality and ruled that the only possible motivation for opposing gay rights was sheer bigotry. The logical progression here is clear: When our legal system abandoned its moral roots, it inevitably embraced new absolutes. Privacy and personal autonomy, especially sexual freedom, have become absolute values that trump all other values. You and I need to help people understand that separating the law from its Christian roots has deprived it of all moral authority—and left us with a law that exalts sexual freedom over everything. If we don’t, archeologists of the twenty-first century may well conclude that sex was indeed the overriding obsession of twentieth-century America.


Chuck Colson


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