12 Dec Who Said If a Law Is Unjust
Martin Luther King Jr. is a symbol of peace, justice, and nonviolence, but he is often misquoted, misunderstood, and invoked for nefarious causes that have nothing to do with his legacy. While many like to talk about King`s “dream” and his commitment to peace, part of remembering him is understanding his belief that society has a responsibility to disobey unjust laws. And right now, we in America have become the land of unjust laws and policies — from suppressing voters to banning race and racism. Notes: This quote was not found in Thomas Jefferson`s papers. It has been suggested that this is a paraphrase of Jefferson`s statement in the Declaration of Independence: Whenever any form of government destroys these goals, it is the right of the people to change or abolish them and install a new government. “, although such a paraphrase seems to remove some radical liberties with the original version. The quote is much more similar to Martin Luther King Jr.`s comment in his famous letter from Birmingham Prison: “One has not only a legal but also a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  Although he did not advocate breaking the law or, as he put it, “circumventing the law or defying the law” like the “fanatical segregationist,” King was steadfast in defending civil disobedience to break systems of oppression – disobeying unjust laws in public and with love. After all, he believed that those who passively accepted evil without protest were perpetuating it and collaborating with it.
“An unjust law is itself a form of violence. The arrest for its violation is even more so. Now, the law of nonviolence says that violence must not be fought by counterviolence, but by nonviolence. I do this by breaking the law and peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment. – Mahatma Gandhi “One has not only a legal responsibility, but also a moral one, to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. – Martin Luther King, Jr. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, dropped King last month when he announced an anti-criticism bill on racial theory called the Stop Woke Act. The legislation would allow private parties such as students, parents, employees, and businesses to sue schools and workplaces that teach critical race theory. “You think about what MLK stood for,” DeSantis said.
“He said he didn`t want people to be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” “Well, what`s the difference between the two? How do you determine whether a law is just or unjust? A righteous law is a man-made code that is compatible with God`s moral law or law. An unjust law is a code that does not conform to the moral law. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that elevates the human personality is just. Any law that denigrates the human personality is unjust. In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau also questioned the legitimacy of any unjust law. He says: In the fourth century AD, Augustine of Hippo said “for I think that a law that is not just is not really a law.” He wrote this when he was discussing why evil exists. His conclusion was that it is ultimately a problem caused by people deviating from good or just behavior. Should the laws be respected? Yes, but only if they are fair. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in a letter from Birmingham Prison, saying that Jim Crow`s laws were unjust and should be avoided to justify his justification of the goodness of civil disobedience.
King was steadfast in defending civil disobedience to break systems of oppression – disobeying unjust laws in public and with love. Throughout history, philosophical and religious writers have often opposed unjust laws. For example, in Isaiah 10, “One might ask, `How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?` The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate for fair laws. One has not only a legal but also a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility not to obey unjust laws. I agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is not a law at all.” What is an unjust law? According to King, it is the one who degrades rather than elevates humanity. Jim Crow segregation laws were a prime example of unjust laws because “segregation distorts the soul and harms the personality,” as King noted.
“This gives the segregationist a false sense of superiority and the segregationist a false sense of inferiority.” That same year, King said at the March on Washington, “I dream that one day my four young children will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” “A person who breaks a law that conscience says is unjust, and who willingly accepts the prison sentence in order to awaken the conscience of the community to its injustice, is in fact expressing the greatest respect for the law” – Martin Luther King, Jr. Now it`s time to remember that King, while non-violent, was not a dealer. People in the United States see the future of the nation`s multiracial democracy at stake because of unjust laws aimed at further ostracizing marginalized voices. And we shouldn`t just stand aside and watch this happen. We can use the power of our voice and our voices to hold elected officials accountable. Nothing in King`s actions or rhetoric — no matter how some may try to distort them — suggests that he would be satisfied with America`s current position on civil rights. A law is also unfair if a numerical majority or a majority of power imposes it on a minority, but the majority is not required to follow the law. King used concrete examples to clarify his point. It is a side of him that has been glossed over or even conveniently excluded from the conversation.
Meanwhile, there are people today who support unjust laws, but invoke King`s name when appropriate. They support policies that directly oppose King`s dream for America and choose his words without context to justify unjust laws. When a law is unjust, a person not only has the right not to ignore it, but is obliged to do so. Thomas Jefferson An unjust law is not a law at all, Latin Lex iniusta non est lex, is an expression of natural law that recognizes that authority is not legitimate if it is not good and just. This has become a standard legal maxim around the world. To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we share excerpts from King`s “Letter from Birmingham Prison,” one of the most important moral treatises of the twentieth century. Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. (full text and audio) Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (full version) Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., claim to support the right to vote and celebrate King`s vision and honor his legacy of freedom, justice, and equality, but they refuse to change the Senate`s parliamentary filibuster rule. This would allow for the adoption of important electoral laws and the preservation of multiracial democracy.