Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Legality cripples morality

By Dave Coffey

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While perusing through some news stories recently, I noticed a particularly interesting Associated Press article concerning a new policy recently put into place at Tufts University. The new policy bans students from engaging in sexual activity in their dorm rooms while their roommates are there.

Reception of the new policy was fairly divided within the Tufts student body. Some think the policy is a positive measure, reinforcing respect and proper cohabitation conditions between roommates. Others, however, think it is a blatant and unnecessary intrusion into students’ residential lives.

After reading the article, I found myself unsure which side I agreed with on the matter. Nevertheless, I found the policy itself to be quite unorthodox, at least in terms of what it was trying to regulate and where.

After thinking about it for a while, I came upon another article on, this one concerning a discrimination lawsuit between clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch and a young woman named Samantha Elauf. Long story short, Abercrombie refused to hire Elauf, who is Muslim, because her religion requires her to wear a hijab, or headscarf, and this apparently doesn’t fit in to Abercrombie’s “look policy” (a.k.a. their employee dress code). In turn, Elauf is suing Abercrombie & Fitch for “discrimination … on the basis of religion,” said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the article.

After reading both articles, I came to the conclusion that I disagreed with upholding the rules and policies inherent in both articles. I don’t just disagree with them because I am for what they’re trying to prevent, however.

As someone who lives in a dorm, I wholeheartedly agree that engaging in sexual activity while your roommate is present should indeed be frowned upon to say the least. I also think that discriminating against someone based on religion, or any personal trait for that matter, is wrong, in terms of employment or otherwise. The reason I disagree with upholding these policies, though, has to do with the subtle repercussions of the moving of the fine line between legality and morality.

In my opinion, just because certain things should or should not be a certain way does not mean we need a law or rule inherently enforcing it. It may seem an arbitrary point to defend at first, but aren’t there things we shouldn’t have to be bound by law to do or not do? The aforementioned notion of morality becomes muddled and hidden behind legality when certain rules are put in place. As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Enforcing certain moral decisions – even the easy ones – by law or policy takes away one’s ability to flex the morality muscle, so to speak. And it is precisely this that we will lose. The ban on sex while a roommate is present, for example, is supposedly in order to promote “respect and consideration,” according to the AP article. But doesn’t enforcing the ideas of respect and consideration by policy somewhat undermine the intangible values therein?

I’m not trying to be all Johnny Anarchist here and say all laws and rules are bad for society. Of course laws against stuff like murder and assault and all those kinds of things benefit us as a people. But there are some things that should simply be left up to a person’s moral judgment to decide, as opposed to having a decision imposed by some sort of legal measure.

Take the Abercrombie & Fitch lawsuit, for example. I in no way promote or think it right to discriminate against someone based on their personal spiritual practices. However, should Abercrombie & Fitch be persuaded by law to think similarly? The harsh reality about a business like Abercrombie is that it turns a profit by marketing on an association between its clothing and attractive people. Abercrombie as a company would therefore see it fit to associate itself with as many attractive people as physically possible. Is it morally wrong of them to turn someone down for employment simply because they think the person’s “image” isn’t attractive enough? It is in my book, but it shouldn’t necessarily be illegal for them to do so.

In my opinion, restrictive laws and rules preventing Abercrombie & Fitch from certain hiring practices – such as the one in question – are merely a reactive attitude to a realization of moral values in today’s society. The idea of having a “look policy” earns Abercrombie & Fitch, according to, over $3 billion a year in revenue off of us as a society. Yet our society has rules against such practices.

Is it too much to ask to pull morality out of legality’s shadow? Regulating certain moral issues and decisions by policy alone renders any sense of morality impotent, since it takes away the ability to choose the “right” answer, or at least the potency therein. Perhaps if we put a stop to this, we could come to terms with who we are as a society, in a moral sense.

Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Legality cripples morality”

  1. muad'dib on November 1st, 2009 5:12 am

    If they want to have a policy on sex with roommates present they could just fix the whole damn problem by building the right housing to give people single-person rooms. I’ve seen North Apartments: a room in there may be small, but it’s *yours* to screw around in as you please. Or at the very least roommates should reciprocate the whole respect and consideration thing by giving each other some roommate-less time to spend with the SO.


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