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OPINION: Mandating morality cancels out free will, Lee Lonsberry writes

In this opinion piece, Lee Lonsberry explains why making it a crime not to call 911 takes away your right to choose to do the right thing. Photo: Getty Images

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — The state shouldn’t be in the business of mandating morality.

A bill that would make it a misdemeanor to willfully fail to call 911 if a person witnesses another suffering serious bodily injury died Wednesday on the floor of the Utah House by a vote of  29-46.
The bill has met the same fate before.

I am relieved it did.

Why it came up

A group of teens in 2018 filmed a man struggling to stay above water in a pond in Florida and taunting him as he sank beneath the water never to resurface. His body was discovered five days later.

Police and prosecutors were frustrated no charges could be brought against the group of boys.

After years of work, House Minority Leader Brian King’s bill, HB104, would only target the worst offender who “knowingly, intentionally and willfully fails” to call 911 during “a crime or another emergency.”

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, joined with Democrat King of Salt Lake City.

“Somebody can stand there, watch another person getting beat bloody, and videotape the thing and post it on the internet and act like it’s entertainment and just sit there and watch it happen and there’s nothing — nothing — that can occur,” Hutchings said.

Hutching said it’s like society has reverted to the times of the gladiators in the Coliseum of ancient Rome. Bloodsport.

Mandating morality

Of course, you should call 911 if you witness an emergency or a crime. A person who fails to do so is morally bankrupt. But should that failure to summon help be a crime?


Mandating morality by force of punishment makes acting of one’s own free will less free. We move from “I chose to do it because it was the right thing to do” to “I had no choice because it’s the law.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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