The Texas Legislature is currently in full swing. Today the Texas House voted on HB80. House Bill 80 highlights a problem that extends far beyond the text of the proposed law. HB80 is a bill that seeks to criminalize using a cell phone to “text, email, instant message, or other form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication” while driving.
Proponents of this bill advocate for it in the name of safety. Who would be opposed to safety? I believe seeking out the safety of others is my obligation as a Christian. It is what it means to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” In fact, the theological tradition that I belong to states in our foundational catechism that our duty is to “preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes,… and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” This would certainly include safe driving habits like not texting or emailing while driving. The problem is that this is my personal obligation to my neighbors according to God’s Law. It is not the obligation of our civil government to criminalize unsafe actions by individuals.
The purpose of our civil government is to punish legitimate crimes. Legitimate crimes require victims, not potential victims. This bill and those representatives that voted for it are making a criminal act where there is no victim. This is a slippery slope to slide down. Where will it stop? Do we next make it a crime to put on make-up while driving? What about adjusting your car radio? What about loud discussions by passengers and especially kids? There is an unending list of distractions that we could outlaw in the name of “safety.” The real problem here lies in their jurisdictional overreach. The Texas House, including my Rep. John Otto, believe they have the ability to prevent crimes from happening and thus save potential victims. They believe they can legislate safe behavior by decreeing from on high how we should think and act. This is nothing more than prideful arrogance. Bills like these reveal their ignorance or willful disobedience to their limited roles as civil magistrates. Tyranny in the name of safety is unacceptable.
We should not only reject their decrees, but let them know we will no longer be silent while they seek to regulate every aspect of our lives. Our obligation to our neighbors is decreed from a much higher authority than Austin, TX. They ought to pay a lot more attention to theirs from the same authority. Punish legitimate crimes with victims. Nothing more, nothing less.