It is a great witness of Jesus Christ to the world when we work for what is just but don't bitterly complain when things don't go our way in the secular sphere. the answer to the next question. In this module, we’ll look at the variety of possible responses when a person or group feels a situation is unjust. Common ground is present that may help settle the rest of the disagreement. Posted by: Second, Aquinas’ view helps reconcile scriptural and historical controversies regarding civil disobedience. If I am speeding because I was not paying attention to a “Reduced Speed Ahead” sign, I deserve my ticket. The Rev. August 4, 2011 11:49 AM. Thus we can see the usefulness of Aquinas’ position in evaluating the various precedents of Christian practice. Thus, the laws that Dr. King violated were unjust and so illegitimate. What we understand as the moral law—whether we learn that through reason in the natural law, or from special revelation in the divine law—is really just the part of eternal law that deals with the good of rational creatures.7 God’s laws are always rational, since He is a perfectly rational and omniscient lawgiver. Moreover, the Thomistic test gives us a good method of sorting and critiquing civil disobedience precedents from Christian practice. 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. So when a human law commands us to do what is morally right, we are fully morally obliged to obey it. Aquinas calls eternal law “the type [or rationale or form] of Divine Wisdom… moving all things to their due end, bear[ing] the character of law.”6 So the workings of the universe are not just law-like, they are literally law-governed. Join now. Human laws, though, may be imperfect in their rationality, which has important implications for civil disobedience, as we will see. These questions were heightened by the Christian mission of our And as wholly rational, righteous and loving, God only ever commands things that are good for us. In fact, I think political obligations are a broader category of duties than strictly legal obligations. 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. Good post and a good reminder. we ask whether the proposed civilly-disobedient action is the option that will Unjust Laws Unjust laws have always been around. 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. If she still retains enough income to meet her needs and to have some—admittedly insufficient—level of reward for whatever benefits her labors created in the community, Aquinas would, I believe, regard obedience to the law as the more morally justified action over protests and refusal to pay the taxes. over us try to command and coerce us anyway. Emcee | The law does not cause enough harm to her or its other victims to justify the harm to the civil order from her or others’ disobedience. King wrote: "There are just laws and there are unjust laws. Posted by: [CDATA[ */ 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. And that goal is the end of natural law.29 Given this situation, Aquinas argues that, the force of a [human] law [that is, its moral obligation] depends on the extent of its justice…. 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 God judges a nation, our response ought to be: 1) a call to the church to repent and 2) stand against the evil for the glory of God. It's very easy, especially now, to get riled up about what is happening in government when it's all over the media. | sound laws are to be derived from principles based on reason. A law may flatly oppose what God has told us is morally right, like Haman’s proposed law directing wholesale robbery and murder of the Jews.31 Or a law may actually—or at least be intended to—support the common good, but not do so as well as it should. These laws should be reversed and/or taken off the books. Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' unlock 5.0 3 votes 3 votes ... We're in the know. If he follows his moral judgment and violate the law, he would be charged with the penalty stipulated in the law. Consider Bonhoeffer’s cabal: who were they to decide a matter which, if they had succeeded, would likely have cost many more lives in punishments and reprisals? Seditious civil disobedience might only be justified in the extreme when the tyrant is already making war on the people, and insurrection cannot make it worse. Power, alone, cannot make an issued rule a law. Normally, that is against “the assembly of those who are united together in fellowship recognized by law and for the common good” and is sinful.48 However, Aquinas explicitly says that to conduct “seditious” action against the rule of a tyrant—who rules for personal gain rather than the good of the people—does not properly count as sedition.49 That analysis seems to favor, for instance, the plan by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others, to assassinate Hitler. According to Aquinas, God’s law always morally obligates us to obey. However, that changes with respect to human laws. Instead, any law has to find its basis in “universal propositions of the practical intellect.”4 A law has to be rational, ultimately based in self-evident directives about the pursuit of our good. Human laws, then, need to get their moral authority by ultimately finding their basis in God’s law, specifically the natural law.26 Aquinas does not want to violate the religious freedom of the individual’s conscience or to have human laws hold people to God’s (unreachably) perfect standard, so he does not see enforcing divine law as the state’s job.27 God can see into and judge the heart, but humans cannot; mentally-internal matters are for divine but not human law.28 Human lawgivers only need to stay out of the divine law’s way and not violate it, like Nebuchadnezzar did with his command to worship his idol. 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. Most people in a democracy believe that the second course is best. Inspired by this question, I'm left wondering how Christians ought to respond to laws that are unjust, but not overtly immoral.. How should we respond ... 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 […] How Should We Respond to Unjust Laws? on how to protest social injustice. And I believe this Thomistic analysis of civil disobedience can importantly contribute to those goals, both for my students and Christian students, more generally.55, Hope College Log in. After all, since God’s commands always morally oblige us to obey—as we saw against any unjust law would be morally appropriate, but the Thomistic position For example, since so-called “house churches” in China are widely viewed by Chinese authorities as subversive to the state, then publicly disrupting the government’s restrictive policies would confirm the already-present scandal against the Christian faith even more than the churches’ continued meeting already does (which meetings themselves would be justified since God’s revealed law directs Christians to gather). civil disobedience is morally justified. var google_conversion_label = "34_7CLKUgAMQ7tbM5gM"; Nobody should ever be discriminated against over an arbitrary reason such as race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and so on. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (179). One of the characteristic experiences of college is growing awareness of the world’s injustices, and that often creates in students a laudable desire to fight those evils. morally right, we must disobey it. Socrates as well as Dr. Martin Luther King have done this. First, it has a nearly irresistible tendency to escalate, to prompt retaliatory actions or renewed oppression, which then brings about more insurrection, in a vicious cycle. 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. And has not the history of guerilla and civil warfare confirmed this pattern? The Rev. Try to obey them until we actually can change them? That is “exactly in accordance” with Aquinas’ view.41 Moreover, Aquinas’ thesis that the moral law stands above human law, and that the latter must find its justification in the former, has formed the driving ideal of powerful movements for civil reform. scandal and disturbance implications are obvious. We have just gone through a battle in NY on gay marriage and it is easy to get discouraged over a secular "loss.". The homosexual militants, and the secular extremists and statists in bed with them, are now waging a full-scale war against all dissenters, and what we are […] This shows that he believed every injustice needed to be righted or it would eventually affect a great number of people. Adopting the Thomistic view then gives Christians a rational and persuasive platform from which to argue the merits of civil disobedience. 1. Are We Obligated to Obey Unjust Laws? Respond - and respond forcefully - as soon as you recognize your opponent's tactics. I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. (1 Cor. “ A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. That happiness is ultimately found in relationship with God but also involves our flourishing in community with other human beings. Log in. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.30. God, by necessity of His Join now. Sedition “denotes actual aggression, or the preparation for such aggression.”46 Aquinas clarifies that sedition is distinct both from war, properly defined, in that the former is internal, and from strife, in that sedition is not just between individuals or small groups but “between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part.”47 Sedition then covers the violence, and the preparation for it, that would undermine a state. Students struggled over where Christian teaching might draw the line driving theme for this article: can Christians formulate a coherent, persuasive 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. Is that a typo? 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. Exploring that contribution would require another paper, and perhaps I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise. I want to help them direct their responses in ways that further justice while protecting the public good and honoring their Christian commitments. The final requirement is a simple one: nobody can be held responsible for breaking a rule, unless the rule has been adequately made known, or promulgated. The question is whether we should be content to obey them, whether we should try to change them but obey until they're changed, or whether we should disobey them at once. View 06-5 Response to Unjust Laws from PHI 2010 at University of Central Florida. Again, the Certainly, there are Thomistic scholars who would disagree with me. Consider the following five steps as a possible strategy for defeating your opponent: Know your opponents and their strategies; Realize that threats are only threats. In what follows, I shall present a brief summary of Aquinas’ account, note some ways in which it skillfully navigates the scriptural and historical controversy, and offer a few observations on how Aquinas’ account could be useful to Christians, especially students, today. That had my attention, but then he claimed that the news coverage had not captured the full event. "Unjust/unholy laws enacted by pagans/secularists do make a dent against God eternal plan." Their complete justice entails that we are always morally obligated to follow them. A while back, a former student now doing graduate work at UC Davis told me of his experience with the “Occupy” protest there. According to Aquinas, laws must issue from an authority that can rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience. However, our own obligation to the common good may still direct us to obey, if breaking the law would be a worse harm to the community. 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. The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? As Thomas Jefferson said, 'I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just-that His justice cannot sleep forever. So laws must be issued either by a mandate of the people, or by the decision of a “public personage” the people accept as their representative. First, it has a thoroughly reasoned foundation, in Aquinas’ conceptions of law and of human law’s relation to morality. As we consider Scripture, on the one hand, it holds this command: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Act 26:14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Designed by Public Platform. Again, the justification of civil disobedience in this kind of case depends on the particulars. To protest in a violent manner against the state sounds like the “private war” of strife, which would be sinful. Yet, a far more important issue to talk about later is what people should do in face of just of unjust laws. For in cases of laws with an “extent of justice,” we recognize that the unjust laws also do some good. In Aquinas’ words, “the binding power of law is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished.”34 For that reason, breaking the law for civil disobedience needs to be carefully weighed against the undercutting effect that action will have on the general moral authority of human laws. Both of these factors create “scandal and disturbance” that damage peace and the common good, and we have already seen that Aquinas holds that even in cases where laws have no moral obligation for us, we still have our own moral obligation to the public good. Martin Luther once said, "I will not have recourse to arms and bloodshed in defense of the Gospel. DISOBEY WICKED LAWS preach by Apostle Colin Esseboom on fb as Tony Esseboom out a straightforward Thomistic test to determine whether some proposed act of var google_conversion_id = 1020472174; The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? Moreover, sometimes, legitimate Moreover, breaking laws directly disturbs the peace, to some extent, through the illegal activity itself. That had my attention, but then he claimed that the news coverage had not captured the full event. LOUISVILLE — Panelists, some of them with firsthand accounts, discussed how Christians can respond to unjust policing during a Tuesday webinar hosted by two organizations affiliated with Union Presbyterian Seminary.. unjust laws Essay 479 Words | 2 Pages. (Council of Orange: Canon 6). Aquinas gives crisp guidelines regarding when civil disobedience could be morally allowable—or even obligatory—and supplies a “test” to determine whether a given method of disobedience is morally appropriate. more general question of breaking laws, at all, to protest injustice. above—they also oblige us to disobey any rule that would contradict them. Critical Essay - Letter From a Birmingham Jail 880 Words | 4 Pages. What the public never saw, he said, was that the campus police had been trying to leave b… With Aquinas’ position on civil disobedience now in view, we can quickly lay It makes Paul's defense before King Agrippa more apropos: Act 26:13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. Some of these latter were Or the U.S. might justly institute a military draft on all able-bodied citizens, but not one applying only to African Americans. ... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. ”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. 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. Aquinas addresses civil disobedience as part of his treatment of law in the Summa Theologiae. These latter kinds of failure possess an “extent of justice” and proportionately have “just so much of the nature of law.”32 In short, even laws that fail to be fully just may still morally obligate us to an extent, as we will see in a moment. This requirement demands that a law must be “chiefly ordained to the common good.”8 In other words, laws need to be good for, or beneficial to, the community to which they apply. To have a political obligation is to have a moral duty to obey the laws and support the institutions of one’s political community. _uacct = "UA-1368982-1"; Aquinas defines “strife” as “a kind of private war…being declared not by public authority, but rather by an inordinate will. It ought not be, "God is Sovereign, so let's roll over and accept things as they are." Please enter the letter "m" in the field below: Catalog of Reformed Books & Resources by Author. On the moral responsibility to break unjust laws. The requirement of promulgation is unlikely to be the driver for civil disobedience—since intentionally disobeying a law as protest seems to imply knowing it is there—but it could, if, say, some group protested a law applying to some other group that was not being made aware of the law. That holds true for all laws, even God’s—Aquinas is no divine command theorist. A “yes” to the second possibility means we may disobey, depending on We will pursue this crucial idea more in a moment, but first we need to return to the connection between law and morality. var google_conversion_color = "666666"; Or again, a law might be just in its content, but come from an unjust source, like the rebellious English barons forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta. 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. The common-law doctrine of self-defence is always governed by a necessity proviso: you may lie or use violence only if necessary, that is, only if peaceful actions are not as effective. How Should One Respond to Unjust Laws? Therefore, Aquinas holds that when a law deflects from the human good, civil disobedience may or may not be morally appropriate, depending on the particulars of the case.