Why Does the Commonwealth of Virginia Legally Support Moral Policing

“Sic semper tyrannis, thus always to tyrants”, serves as the official motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It harkens back to the state’s revolutionary spirit that threw off the chains of overseas domination, which created the Commonwealth we know today. In addition to referencing the state’s independence, “sic semper tyrannis” embodies the free spirit that rebelled against overbearing governance. However, is the state living up to its motto?

Sadly, it is not.  Based on the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States project, Virginia is ranked 34th in regards to personal freedom.  While the Commonwealth fairs well in the subcategories of gun and tobacco laws, it performs horribly in the areas of alcohol, gambling, and cannabis. These low scores are indicative of overbearing restrictions on the agency of an individual in the Commonwealth, which defies the state’s motto.

First of all, the possession of marijuana is illegal in the state of Virginia, except for medicinal uses.  The first time offense is a misdemeanor worthy of a jail sentence, “...more than 30 days and fined not more than $500.” A repeat offense is a class one misdemeanor, which carries much heavier punishment.

While Virginia’s alcohol laws are only slightly oppressive to the average citizen, they do act as a sizable burden on businesses within the Commonwealth. While those with a penchant for beer or wine can buy them at grocery stores, those seeking liquor must visit a state-affiliated store.  One of the most restrictive laws in this category requires that bars “must make at least 45% of their revenue from food sales.”

The restrictive nature of Virginia’s gambling laws is evident in the prohibition of many forms of games of chance. The only forms tolerated by the Commonwealth would include private betting, games of chance conducted by charities or by the state, and gambling at horse races. Even at horse races, betting has to occur through either licensed parties or state affiliates.  In addition to this overbearing oversight on betting, Virginia imposes a multitude of misdemeanor statuses for violators who participate in illegal gambling.  The penalties for operators are even more severe, with a guilty verdict equating to a class 6 felony, which can carry at least one year in prison and hefty fines.

To add insult to injury, restrictions on gambling are located in the Virginia State Code under a chapter dedicated to “crimes involving morals and decency.” This sends a message that gambling is inherently wrong, demeaning an individual’s pastime as an activity for immoral individuals.

Finally, within Article 3. Commercial Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, Etc. in the morals and decency chapter, there is a section that contains a legal code titled Fornification. The state defines fornication as sexual activities that occur between two adults outside the institution of marriage. This act, which is supported by a majority of men and women in the United States, is considered an illegal act, worthy of a class 4 misdemeanor.  While it is quite obvious that this restriction is not enforced by the Commonwealth, it must be noted that it is a law that can be found in the state’s legal code.

Within this chapter, it is important to note that there are codes to protect the rights and liberties of adults and children. These include protections against forced prostitution and the use of children in sexual acts.  While these laws must still be upheld, since they protect individuals from coercion and violence, the restrictions on gambling and on sex outside of marriage should not be included.

How do these laws and regulations align with the ethos of “sic semper tyrannis” or even the nation’s belief of protecting the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and in the pursuit of happiness? In the land of the free, should not one be able to have discretion over what activities to participate in as long as it does not negatively affect nonconsenting third parties?  Regarding the gambling and cannabis laws, it should be of no concern of the state if individuals partake in these actions since one can bet money or use marijuana without causing harm to uninvolved individuals. Additionally, if the neighboring states of Maryland and West Virginia protect the right of the individual to gamble his or her wealth, then the Commonwealth should follow suit. In addressing the regulations on the sale of alcohol, the requirement for bars to sell food is a violation of the agency of the business owner. It should be his or her decision on what items the establishment sells.  Additionally, Virginia’s overbearing control of the sale of liquor deprives businessowners of an additional item to sell. Finally, the outdated and unenforced fornification law not only represents the opposite of “Sic semper tyrannis” by technically legislating the private affairs of the bedroom, but acts as an embarrassment that serves no legal need in the state of Virginia.

Virginia needs to modernize its criminal legal structure and remove these outdated, personally restrictive, and economically controlling laws and regulations against gambling, alcohol sales, marijuana, and sex outside of marriage. It is time the state truly embodies “Sic semper tyrannis.”