In letter from Birmingham Jail, King considers the question, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? ” what is his answer? what do you think of the distinctions he makes? be sure to support your position with evidence taken from your reading, your own experiences and/or your observation of others. By definition, laws must be followed. They are created as guidelines such that there would be peace and order.
However, there are those people who do not support the laws; some because they do not know what they are, others because they are just naturally stubborn but there are also those who do not advocate them because they do not believe in what those laws stand for. One classic example of the last reason for disobedience to law can be manifested in Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Here the question “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? ” was asked, to this, he raised the idea of just and unjust laws.
Genius as he was, he was able to present a clear explanation of what he meant by such concepts and I am more than impressed with his qualification, which made me agree about his interpretation of this delineation of laws. Indeed, it is justified not to advocate “unjust” laws because they are not completely binding, thus, are discriminatory over the minority. In the question asked above, King answered “The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.
Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all. ”” For someone to accept King’s argument, his idea of “just” and “unjust” laws must first be cleared out. In the said letter, He says “An unjust law is a code that numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself” (160). This was corollary to his arrest while doing protest against racial segregation.
The protests and King’s confinement ask us about “unjust” laws, public morality, and ethical behaviors in the society. King talks about the blindness of clergymen and governors and how they do not see African American as a part of the society and their refusal to accept them when in fact, African Americans have taken their parts in the society ever since they came to America. The author questions the church’s authenticity and loyalty over their religious responsibility to guide everyone to the eternal will of God which is peace and love.
He also points out how we naturally know what is right and what is wrong because we have moral consciousness. Yet, the American society has not changed a bit. Further distinction between “just” and “unjust” laws as presented by King lies on their relationship with the moral law, or that which is according to the law of God. Just laws made by men must be in harmony with eternal and natural laws and that they should be able to uplift human personality, otherwise, they are unjust.
Thus, men are to uphold the earlier and by virtue of morality should denounce the latter. He then stressed that segregation statutes are unjust because the practice distorts the human soul and also causes damage to one’s personality. This is because it makes the segregator develop an idea of superiority over the segregated and oftentimes make the latter feel inferior. It creates a separation between “we” or the majority and “they” the minority and they usually make the second group feel less about their selves and are actually not treated as equals.
This was the scenario that was taking place during that period, there were discriminations against the Negros, and such was strongly opposed by king. Taking all that has been said in the Letter, I am able to derive my own understanding of the just and unjust laws that King was talking about. In my comprehension, he considers a law unjust if it is selectively applicable. This means that a certain law can be bestowed to one but will rule out the other. In simple comparison, it is like politics inside the classroom.
There is always this “in” (i. e. cheerleaders, athletes) group and the “outcast” (i. e. geeks, nerds, physically challenged, etc) and there are instances that the earlier will come up with something (like parties, games, etc) and they would allow everyone to join except for the “outcast” group basically because they are outcast and the status quo embraces such tradition thus will not see anything wrong about it. This may seem to be an oversimplification of the idea but that would somehow present the gist of it.
The presence of what could be considered as unjust laws can actually still be seen at present. In Islam practicing countries, they have this culture of having certain rules to follow and distance to be maintained when interacting with Na-Mahram or those people other than the members of their family. Thus, if they reacted rudely to the Na-Mahram, their actions would be justified by this certain law or rule. They will be punished if they did wrong to people other than the Na-Mahram otherwise, their action is generally called for.
In this scenario, the law or rule only applies to the favor of the Islam practitioner and excludes the Na-Mahram, thus if examined under King’s concept, it is unjust. Moreover, I have read about this country in Asia wherein the President has been ousted out of power and was convicted of a crime of plunder. Unjust application of the law can be seen here because that President did not serve his sentence in prison, rather in one of his mansions claiming to be sick; they called it house arrest. Then, after several years, he was granted absolute pardon by the new President.
The worst thing about this is that the deposed President was again given the chance to run for the same government post came Election Day. There is an apparent double standard in the application of the law because of all the favors that this person got as if compared to the common people who had to serve their sentences in the scanty and stinky prison cells, convicted or otherwise. Civilizations arose as early as the practice of socialization began and as early as those times, men are already suffering from unfair treatments.
There were different people in different places, but majority of them rather lived under the rules than by the rules because the rules were unethical and inequitable. The history of slavery in America is a good example of unethical conduct. There were rules and laws, but they were for superiors because enslaved people had no rights at all. Moreover, these rules, regulations, and laws were unfair and one-sided. The fight for the right of suffrage is yet another example because although it is a sign of independence, initially, only males of the upper class are allowed to participate.
Blacks and women are disregarded; they were exemptions to the rule. Given the understanding of unjust laws, Martin Luther King Jr indeed cannot be blamed for being selective of the laws to follow because certain laws are also selective of their application. Why would one advocate a law that would disadvantage or would undermine him? Laws should be created to provide order and peace so that people will leave in harmony and not to perpetuate the power or dominance of the majority over the minority. All people have rights, thus all people must be equal in front of the law.
No man shall be superior over the other and if one errs he shall have the same punishment as the others who committed the same crime. There should be no exemption to this no matter who they are or where they came from. Therefore, if one country, state or nation would want their laws to be advocated by all of their citizens, they must ensure that they create one body of law that would cater to everyone; no exemptions, special treatments or discrimination. Laws are virtuous if they are created and are applied as such; otherwise, disobedience by the marginalized groups could not be prevented nor could be questioned.
Courtney from Study Moose
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