Why Should We Disobey Unjust Laws

First, a human law cannot be just in different ways and gradations. A law can categorically resist what God has told us to be morally just, such as Haman`s bill, which orders the mass theft and murder of Jews.31 Or a law may indeed – or at least be intended to – support the common good, but not as well as it should. Many might consider prohibition in this category because it has caused more problems than good. Or again, a law could only be in content, but from an unfair source, like the rebellious English barons who force King John to sign the Magna Carta. Or maybe a law could fail because it is not sufficiently enacted. The latter types of failures possess a “measure of justice” and proportionally have “only a certain part of the nature of the law”. 32 In short, even laws that are not quite right can still bind us morally to some extent, as we will see in a moment. On the other hand, it also contains this seemingly contradictory statement made to justify the apostles` disobedience to Jewish leaders: “We must obey God more than any human authority.” 2 How to reconcile them? If we also look at church history, we see that Christians have responded to civil injustice in a variety of ways, from complicity to peaceful resistance to violent uprisings. And each of these options has been criticized by other voices within the Christian body. What precedent should we invoke? Thus, neither Scripture nor Church history presents a clear position on civil disobedience—whether it is justified and, if so, when and how. Taking into account the previous requirements concerning the common good, authority, and moral obligation, we can now see how Thomas Aquinas` general definition of law and conception of human law provide him with a solid justification for certain types of civil disobedience.

It may seem at first glance that civil disobedience to any unjust law would be morally appropriate, but the Thomistic position is more nuanced than that. Because Thomas Aquinas recognizes two important qualifications. However, this is changing in terms of human laws. God can still be morally obligated with His commandments because of His perfect nature and authority, but people don`t. Sometimes people who are not legitimate authorities on us try to command and force us anyway. In addition, legitimate authorities sometimes issue decrees that do not promote the common good. A brief reflection will easily provide the reader with many examples of both cases. Second, whenever laws are broken – even unjust ones – harm the common good. Breaking laws “in itself harms the common good.” 33 That is, human law derives much of its respect and authority from long-standing observational practices.

When laws are broken, precedents are set against those customs, and the overall level of compliance with the law – including good ones – decreases. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “the binding force of law is diminished to the extent that custom is abolished.” 34 For this reason, the violation of the law for civil disobedience must be carefully weighed against the undermining effect that actions will have on the general moral authority of human laws. It is not that the law cannot demand sacrifices or hardships from the population; It`s possible. For people benefit from community life, and this gives the well-being of the community itself a right to its members.10 But the “burdens” – such as taxes or conscription – that laws impose must be “fair” and “proportionate” to be considered a public interest.11 In other words, legal burdens must be felt throughout the community that benefits from them. that they are worn, assumed equitably. For example, the U.S. could fairly tax the income of its citizens and perhaps even levy a progressive tax, since the rich may well benefit more from the benefits of society; But he couldn`t just tax the rich. Or the United States could legitimately introduce conscription for all able-bodied citizens, but not conscription that applies only to African Americans. Thus, while people may be required to contribute to the interest of the state, they “cannot ..

be treated unjustly for any property of the state, whether real or falsified.” 12 To understand when and how Thomas Aquinas views civil disobedience as morally justified, we must first examine the four elements of his general definition of law. By grasping the requirements of what constitutes true law, we will discover places where the supposed laws around us could fail and become opportunities for civil disobedience. The basic idea that unites the elements is that the law provides a “rule and measure” of action that leads us to our good and commits us in those directions.3 To achieve our well-being, we must prosper, become perfect, and achieve happiness—a goal that is, of course, valuable. This happiness ultimately lies in our relationship with God, but it also involves our fulfillment in fellowship with others. All the elements of the law combine to form binding rules that lead to our happiness. Third, some laws may seem just but unjust when enforced, such as when people are prevented from assembling and are not allowed to use their First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech and movement. These unjust laws prevent people from exercising their fundamental rights; Therefore, they are unfair and should be broken. An observer may approve the reasons that led to some of these actions and reject others.

However, they all raise the same fundamental question: Does the individual have the right – or perhaps the duty – to disobey the law when his mind, conscience or religious beliefs tell him that the law is unjust? According to Thomas Aquinas, the only morally appropriate means of imposing such coercion on a people are if they approve of it themselves or if someone who legitimately represents their will and interests – a morally legitimate authority – approves of it. Laws must therefore be promulgated either by a mandate of the people or by the decision of a “public figure” who accepts the people as their representative. This public figure could be a monarch, a senate, or one of many types of political bodies. God, of course, is considered the supreme legitimate authority, for “the world is governed by divine providence. [and] the whole communion of the universe is governed by divine reason,” making him the ultimate parent and sovereign.19 It is important to recognize that God`s authority lies not only in His divine status or power, but also in His reason, which determines His commandments for the benefit of those who are commanded. For Thomas Aquinas makes it clear that the rule of law cannot be a tyrant.20 Whoever has seized political power by illegitimate means, who holds power by corruption, who governs for his own benefit and not for the benefit of the people, cannot legitimately legislate or compel him to obey.