Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The constraints of civil disobedience

Ben Sasse, who just won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race in Nebraska, says this on his web site:
Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.
Since this is the foundation for the Holly Lobby suit against providing employees with birth control via their health care coverage, liberals are all a-flutter over this "bold" statement by Sasse.

But wait a minute - compare that with what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail:
One may 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 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."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
We all recognize that what MLK is talking about comes from a long line of progressive philosophy about civil disobedience. But there is one way to distinguish that from what Sasse is suggesting. King goes on to say:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
The bolded part is the critical difference. That is why anyone who suggests that Edward Snowden is engaging in civil disobedience by breaking the law and seeking asylum in Russia in order to avoid the penalty is playing right in to the hands of people like Sasse. Its a dangerous opening we need to be careful to avoid.


  1. Compared to his other wrongheaded beliefs, this one is sane by Sasse's standards --

  2. Well said. MLK made his fight from a jail cell. Snowden should do the same, if he has convictions of his position. Civil disobedience is well known and so is the idea of accepting punishment for one's civil disobedience. It is that action that helped bring popularity to MLK's cause. If a person is willing to go to jail for their beliefs, they become more believable.