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. Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King, Jr. • Liberation • May 1963 On the moral responsibility to break unjust laws. They express great concern about our willingness to break the law. That is certainly a legitimate concern. GOP lawmakers who supported the 6-day uprising. January justified, supported or facilitated and appealed to white nationalists — such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — cited and distorted King`s “I Have a Dream” narrative to attack critical racial theory and deny the existence of systemic racism.
Let`s look at a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or majority group forces a minority group to follow, but which does not bind itself. It is a difference that is made legally. For the same reason, a just law is a code to which a majority forces a minority and to which it is ready to obey itself. It is equality that is legalized. “You have not only a legal but also a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility not to obey unjust laws. – Martin Luther King, Jr. “A person who breaks a law that conscience says is unjust and willingly accepts the prison sentence in order to awaken the conscience of the community about its injustice is in fact expressing the greatest respect for the law” – Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Today we share excerpts from King`s “Letter from Birmingham Prison,” one of the most important moral treatises of the twentieth century. 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 national law. Any law that elevates the human personality is just. Any law that denigrates the human personality is unjust. Internationally, he referred to Germany, writing: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was `legal.` It was “illegal” to help and comfort a Jew in Hitler`s Germany. A law is also unfair if a numerical majority or a majority of power imposes it on a minority, but the majority is not bound to follow the law. King used concrete examples to clarify his point. 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.  So I can ask people to obey the 1954 Supreme Court decision, because it is morally just; And I can ask them not to obey segregation regulations, because they are morally reprehensible. 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.” I hope you can see the difference I would like to highlight. I am in no way advocating circumventing or opposing the law as a fanatical segregationist would. That would lead to anarchy. Those who break an unjust law must do so openly, with love, and with a willingness to accept punishment. I maintain that 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.
All the laws of segregation are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and harms the personality. This gives the segregationist a false sense of superiority and the segregationist a false sense of inferiority. Quote: “When a law is unjust, a person not only has the right to ignore it, but is obliged to do so.” One might well 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.” Therefore, segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unhealthy, it is morally reprehensible and sinful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation.