Legislation cannot fix a matter of will

Published 11:06 pm Friday, April 8, 2016

Alabama residents are, according to a recent survey, among the most religious people in the nation.

In a Pew survey released in February, 77 percent of Alabamians said religion is important in their lives (first place), 51 percent said they attend worship services at least weekly (second place), 73 percent said they pray daily (second place), and 82 percent said they believe in God with absolute certainty (first place).

Given that, you wouldn’t think Alabama should have so much trouble with the basics of morality. Certainly, most Alabamians seem to favor posting the Ten Commandments in public places, even when the courts say doing so is unconstitutional.

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Yet the state’s lawmakers think we do have trouble with the basics. Both Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, have introduced bills to require that teachers receive annual training so they’ll know it’s improper for teachers to have sexual relationships with students.

Butler, who served two terms on the Etowah County school board, said he saw firsthand cases of teachers having sexual relationships with students. One purpose of his bill is to remind teachers that not only should they not have romantic relations with students, they’re also obliged to report to administrators if they know of other school employees who are.

In the past month, the state has seen six cases of teachers, teacher’s aides and coaching assistants allegedly getting caught having inappropriate sexual relations with students. The count so far is one teacher in Decatur, two assistant coaches at East Limestone, an aide at Falkville High, and husband and wife teachers caught separately at a private school in Pickens County. And in February, a school nurse at Florence High School was arrested for the same thing.

No one thinks these teachers, if they’re indeed guilty, thought what they were doing was OK, and few probably believe a state-mandated reminder every year will fix the problem. But government at every level is more adept at looking like it’s doing something to address an issue than actually addressing it.

Teachers having sexual relations with students already is a serious crime in Alabama, one that can lead to any offending teacher being branded a sex offender even if the student was old enough to consent.

The penalty should be deterrence enough.

Government can’t really legislate sexual morality. It certainly can’t legislate away making bad decisions, even when one knows that’s what they’re doing.

We need look no further than Gov. Robert Bentley as an example of someone knowingly making bad decisions. At a minimum, he is guilty of — as Jimmy Carter said while first running for president — lusting in his heart.

Laws are no substitute for self-discipline. Refresher seminars are no stand-in for the classical virtue of prudence. And some leaders, wary of the mote in others’ eyes, are oblivious to the beams in their own.

If there is a moral crisis in Alabama, it certainly doesn’t stem from ignorance of right and wrong. Stubbornness is the more likely culprit.

Online – www.timesdaily.com