January 19, 2016


MLK: 'A Just Law Is a Man-Made Code That Squares With...the Law of God' (Terence P. Jeffrey, January 19, 2015, CNS)

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy are arrested in Birmingham, Ala., on Good Friday 1963 for marching in protest of that city's racist segregation laws. (AP Photo)
When the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was thrown in jail in Birmingham, Ala., on Good Friday 1963, for marching to protest that city's racist segregation laws, he wrote a letter in which he explained the moral and religious foundation of law itself.

Citing the Catholic saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, King, a Baptist clergyman, said that a just law is one that comports with the law of God and an unjust law is one that doesn't.

"You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws," King wrote. "This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws.

"One may well ask, 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?'" King continued. "The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. 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?" wrote King. "How does one determine when 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. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

The Declaration of Independence, which invokes the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," roots the founding of America in the same principle that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., rooted the Civil Rights Movement.

Posted by at January 19, 2016 6:57 PM