Changes in Moral Customs and Laws

July 14, 1965

Report Outline
Constant Shifting of Moral Standards
Loosening of Laws on Sexual Morality
Morality in Literature and the Movies

Striking changes in American moral standards are now finding expression in law. Recent judicial opinions have tended to support the view that personal morality—particularly sexual morality—is none of the law's business. The legal definition of obscenity, moreover, has narrowed to the point where it may soon apply only to hardcore pornography. Whether this trend toward permissiveness is a good thing or a bad thing has been sharply debated. One school of thought holds the view that laws on morality are unenforceable and probably unconstitutional. Another school argues that removal of legal restraints on moral behavior tacitly encourages immorality.

Innumerable speakers and writers have pointed out that American morals have strayed far from the Puritan ethic, which stressed austerity, frugality and sexual asceticism. Malcolm Muggeridge, former editor of Punch, wrote last winter that “In America particularly, but to a greater or lesser extent throughout the Western world, we have all got sex on the brain….”

Every poster yells it at us, every popular song is about it, every dance enacts it. Motion pictures and the television drench us with it, novels make it their interminable theme. It permeates every corner and cranny of life, from birth to the grave…. The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment; the old pagan admonition, Do What Thou Wilt, has superseded the Pauline teaching that, since spirit and flesh lust contrary to one another, Ye Cannot Do the Things That Ye Would Do.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Morality and Values
Jun. 21, 1996  Teaching Values
Jun. 28, 1967  Moral Education
Jul. 14, 1965  Changes in Moral Customs and Laws
Jun. 02, 1961  Business Morality