Further support for that position emerges in the treatment of strife. If he obeys the law, he would be guilty of knowingly aiding to sustain an unjust system. Laws should: (1) “further the common weal” by providing for and promoting people’s safety and well-being; (2) “foster religion” by, at the very least, offering no impediment to following God’s commands; and (3) “be helpful to discipline” by promoting and curbing virtuous and evil actions, respectively.13 The justification for (1) seems obvious, and Aquinas regards (2) and (3) as crucial because it is always beneficial to people to help them morally improve and develop their relationships with God. He had not joined the demonstration, but he happened to be on-scene talking to a friend in the protest when the infamous pepper spraying by the campus police occurred only a few feet from this student. Are We Obligated to Obey Unjust Laws? So if a law fails to promote the “human” good, the law itself does not morally obligate obedience. If, say, a group protests a segregation law by staging a large, non-segregated sit-in at a supposedly segregated location, it may call attention to the unjust law. The second query provides two important guides. if they could rightly participate in the demonstrations. Aquinas writes: “Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps to avoid scandal or disturbance, for which cause a man should even yield his right.”37 In essence, we have to ask ourselves: is it more harmful to the common good if we follow, or if we break, the unjust law? above—they also oblige us to disobey any rule that would contradict them. Answered by Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Wāhid. But, as we saw above, when a human law commands what is morally wrong, it fails to be truly a law. Thus we can see the usefulness of Aquinas’ position in evaluating the various precedents of Christian practice. Now to Aquinas’ mind, the only morally appropriate ways such coercion could be imposed on a people are if they themselves approved it, or if someone rightfully representing their will and interests—a morally legitimate authority—approved it. Appealing to Aquinas’ view could, I think, help students discern appropriate instances and methods of combating injustice: when to work within the system because breaking the laws in question would disproportionately damage the public good, when to justify the law-breaking of civil disobedience, and how to act in those latter situations. In fact, I think political obligations are a broader category of duties than strictly legal obligations. That public personage could be a monarch, a Senate, or any of many different kinds of political body. Also, whether He promulgates those laws through the special revelation in Scripture (the divine law) or through the general revelation in our own reason (the natural law), they are effectively made known to us, and always consistent with each other, as well.24 Thus God’s commands necessarily are fully just and are truly laws to us; they are the moral law. These questions were heightened by the Christian mission of our If the answer is “yes” to the first possibility, then we must On the moral responsibility to break unjust laws. But the question of whether or not we should be required to follow a law that one personally believes is unjust is very hard to answer. This brings about a lot of questions on what laws are just or unjust, how should we as people respond to unjust laws, should we as people be able to disobey laws that we deem unjust, and If we do disobey these laws should we. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. more general question of breaking laws, at all, to protest injustice. With those stringent requirements for the common good in mind, Aquinas identifies the three main ways laws can benefit their subjects. In Aquinas’ words, any edict that, for example, does not come from a rightful authority or promote the common good “must needs be devoid of the nature of a law.”22 In fact, he says, “The like are acts of violence, rather than laws; because… a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all.”23 Or again, if a supposed law is unjust, either in what it commands, or in who commands it or how, it is not truly a law. To protest in a violent manner against the state sounds like the “private war” of strife, which would be sinful. Keith D. Wyma argues that a coherent, well-grounded Christian perspective on civil dis- obedience is possible, and can be found in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, I believe that we should in fact be able to disobey a law and or a decision that we consider to be unjust. Get the answers you need, now! the answer to the next question. The legal speed limit of 55 mph is backed by armed police officers and judges with the power to deprive you of money, privileges, and freedoms—and possibly even your life, for more serious violations. Some ignorance is negligent and culpable. ”Unjust law is no law at all.” In face of unjust laws, merely tolerance and obeying could be detrimental not only to personal rights but also to the well-being of the society. If I am speeding because I was not paying attention to a “Reduced Speed Ahead” sign, I deserve my ticket. 1. Such commands then are God-ordained and do bind us to obey.43 Yet that still allows him to affirm the apostles’ refusal to obey the Jewish rulers, from Acts 5; for they are reacting to human authorities who are ordering something contrary to God’s commands—in this case, to cease spreading the Gospel—which Aquinas has just pointed out requires such disobedience.44 Thus, seen from a Thomistic perspective, these scriptural passages no longer conflict. Read More. When laws are broken, then, precedents are set against those customs, and the general level of respect for law—including the good ones—declines. When civil disobedience is the just response to an unjust law By Michael Sissons 22 August 2003 • 00:01 am It is no accident that in Britain we have good law. For instance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. directly appeals to Aquinas’ position on this point in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”42 In short, Aquinas bases his position on civil disobedience in ideas that are respected and widely utilized in American politics. Thus, the laws that Dr. King violated were unjust and so illegitimate. Political prisoner Kim Davis knows all about unjust laws, and the criminalisation of Christianity. God—as our Creator, Father, King—is obviously a rightful authority over us, with the might to enforce His will. Second, it lacks one of the proper qualifications to constitute a just war—declaration by a rightful authority—since violent insurrection would be an instigation to civil war. Nobody should ever be discriminated against over an arbitrary reason such as race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and so on. against any unjust law would be morally appropriate, but the Thomistic position Shouldn't it be "don't even make a dent against God's eternal plan"? Students struggled over where Christian teaching might draw the line working for change within the laws, but is it right to combat injustice with more var google_conversion_value = 0; Please enter the letter "m" in the field below: Catalog of Reformed Books & Resources by Author. unjust laws Essay 479 Words | 2 Pages. I want my students, as they consider injustices in our economic system, to be well grounded. “ A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. According to Aquinas, laws must issue from an authority that can rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience. For example, I might have a legal obligation to pay tax in a deeply corrupt state, but not necessarily a moral obligation to do so. To what precedent should we appeal? An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” January 21, 2019 By The Editors In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’re sharing excerpts from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” one of the most important moral treatises of the twentieth century. Although recent revelations point to Dr. King’s moral failings, the issues Dr. King raised about the nature of law, what constitutes an unjust law, and how we should respond to unjust laws are as true today as ever. 15:10). My university’s students considered staging an Occupy demonstration on the school’s main quad. Another Occupy On the other hand, for a law that violates the human good, the second question determines whether any civil disobedience is justified by comparing the harm from disobedient actions with the harm from obeying the law. Thus neither Scripture nor church history present a clear-cut position on civil disobedience—on whether it is justified, and if so, when and how. Holland, Michigan 49422-9000 Martin Luther once said, "I will not have recourse to arms and bloodshed in defense of the Gospel. Very true. Even if disobedience were morally justified in a certain circumstance, there would (almost) always have to be a less disruptive option than violence. var google_conversion_label = "34_7CLKUgAMQ7tbM5gM"; The problems, of increased crime and sometimes-violent confrontations with police that have occurred in the Occupy movement also exemplify costs to the common good from civil disobedience. For example, the U.S. might justly tax its citizens’ income, and perhaps even impose a graduated tax, since the rich may well reap more of society’s benefits; but it could not tax only the rich. Martin Luther King, in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," called on all Americans to actively but peacefully oppose laws that were morally wrong. P.O. | The Holiness of God (Russian) ». Granting for the sake of argument the justice of Palestinian claims of tyranny by the Israeli state, their violent insurrection has unquestionably escalated and perpetuated further violence. And, of course, even if we must obey the law, that does not mean we cannot work for its repeal while obeying it. In short, the rule seems to be that other than in the most extreme cases, violent civil disobedience would not be morally allowable in the Thomistic understanding. According to Thoreau, how should a person respond to an unjust law? Sit-in protests might be disruptive, but are not as damaging to the common good as the law is. And every one of those options has been criticized by other voices within the Christian body. Log in. The Rev. The activity of issuing law “belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the vice-regent of the whole people… [that is,] to a public personage who has care of the whole people.”16 For a law shapes the people’s interests toward a common aim.17 To do that, laws carry penalties for disobedience that are backed by sufficient coercive force to ensure obedience, generally speaking.18 This aspect is distinctive of law: my advice to drive no faster than 55 mph is backed by no more than my disapproval if you disregard it. To wrap up these points on the essential aspects of a law, Aquinas offers this implication for the requirements: any so-called “law” that fails to meet these requirements is not actually a law at all. Moreover, Aquinas understands “common good” to imply not the good of the political state, nor even the good of the majority of the populace, but the good of each member of the governed community.9, It is not that the law cannot require sacrifice or hardship from the populace; it can. Try to obey them until we actually can change them? The student was not trying to justify the pepper spraying, but only noting that the campus police may genuinely have felt threatened. A moment’s out a straightforward Thomistic test to determine whether some proposed act of Exploring that contribution would require another paper, and perhaps I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise. The Thomistic perspective could help students avoid getting caught up in trendy, but pointless or violent, protests, and aid them in identifying the truly constructive activities in which injustice can be vilified in a manner that betters society. As a contrasting example, consider the segregation situation, mentioned above; here, I think Aquinas would recommend civil disobedience. Thus, for example, no matter how much scandal it caused the nation or how much punishment it brought them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego rightly disobeyed King Nebuchadnezzar in not worshiping his golden idol.39. Norm Dachtler | Critical Essay - Letter From a Birmingham Jail 880 Words | 4 Pages. So what? Some of these latter were However, that changes with respect to human laws. ... And if politicians fail to follow those principles, then citizens should not feel obliged to follow unjust laws, (and hopefully their peers will back them up by practicing jury […] We will pursue this crucial idea more in a moment, but first we need to return to the connection between law and morality. But the gospel is not hindered by whatever government, unjust law or persecution that we may suffer. us, we must obey. That holds true for all laws, even God’s—Aquinas is no divine command theorist. So we can never rightly disobey God’s laws.25. Posted by: Whatever causes the least harm—whether that is obedience or some particular type of disobedience—is what we morally ought to do. That had my attention, but then he claimed that the news coverage had not captured the full event. we ask whether the proposed civilly-disobedient action is the option that will The Nazi regime had already shown that it responded to assassinations with brutally-escalated reprisals. Jim Crow laws from the times of racial segregation are a prime example of an immoral set of laws. FB.init("26c0263bc1accbd0080b657e8de19ac1"); /*