Good moral character

Good moral character is an ideal state of a person’s beliefs and values that is considered most beneficial to society.[1][2] In United States law, good moral character can, depending on the assessor,[3] include honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, reliability, respect for the law, integrity, candor, discretion, observance of fiduciary duty, respect for the rights of others, absence of hatred and racism, fiscal responsibility, mental and emotional stability, profession-specific criteria such as pledging to honor the constitution and uphold the law, and the absence of a criminal conviction. [4] Since the moral character of a person is an intrinsic psychological characteristic and cannot be measured directly,[5] some scholars and statutes have used the phrase “behaved as a person of good moral character.”[6]

People must have good moral character determined as a fact of law in predominately two contexts - (1) state-issued licensure that allows one to work and practice a regulated profession[7] and (2) federal government-issued U.S. citizenship certificates whereby an immigrant undergoes naturalization to become a citizen. Many laws create a paradox by placing the burden of proof of good moral character on the applicant while such a proof, but not the law, necessitates that the evaluators assess the beliefs and values of the applicant.[8]

Good moral character is the opposite of moral turpitude, another legal concept in the United States used in similar instances.

Assessments of good moral character

Good moral character can be proven through the presence of several positive moral findings, having no-to-minimal negative moral findings, and by the absence of legal violations. Positive evidence of good moral character can include letters of reccomendation, pursuing education, working seven days a week, owning one’s home, attending church every Sunday, marrying one’s high-school sweetheart, having strong ties to one’s nuclear family, coaching little league teams, teaching English above all other languages in one’s home, paying taxes, paying bills on time, and volunteering in the community.[9] If one volunteers to help others, they may be considered a better person if something bad, uncontrollable, and unexpected happens to them while they are working. For example, a man who was stung by a bee while mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor would often be rated as having a better moral character than a similar man who was not stung by a bee.[10]

Negative findings of moral character can include having children without being married, not paying taxes, receiving government support, and advocating for racism.[11] The presence of any negative finding can outweigh several positive findings.

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