Thursday, February 16, 2012

Civil Disobedience

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People have different morals, values and beliefs on certain issues but it is those few that take action who can testify why they would risk their freedom for what they believe. The act of civil disobedience is acted upon to draw public awareness and take a stand for what one believes. They must believe strongly enough to put their freedom on the line. Civil disobedience helped us learn from the past, question the present and improve the future. There are many people who have taken a stand and influenced others by using civil disobedience. People such as Rosa Parks, Thoreau and the many more that won’t be known by name by for standing up for their beliefs. Civil disobedience is a form of protest and resistance usually in a non-violent way that is justifiably carried out in objection to a law.

Civil disobedience is the discriminate violation of a law for a vital social purpose, which is not only justifiable but also necessary when a fundamental human right is at stake. If laws are not questioned and challenged then there is no point in enforcing them. Activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Thoreau all practiced civil disobedience by questioning laws. Civil disobedience should not be tolerated but essential in keeping a society (Zinn).

Justifying civil disobedience involves inequality being demonstrated by the government. One must prove that civil disobedience is the answer to injustice (Bedau). One should take a stand and go against the government if they feel a law to be morally unfair. If there is a chance to make society better by breaking a law then civil disobedience is justifiable. The purpose of civil disobedience is to raise awareness and understanding of an unjust law. To do this successfully is to do so peacefully, violence won’t draw onlookers or an audience. Martin Luther King Jr. said at his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time” (Ideas that changed the world). Nonviolence helps in attracting others towards agreeing with the injustice of the law. There are numerous examples of civil disobedience helping society.


On December 1, 1855, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the back of the bus to a white man. She was arrested for saying no to the driver’s request (Bedau). This example of civil disobedience was the first of many in the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks did not use violence to stand up for herself and African Americans but she used silence. When threatened to have the police called he response was, “just call them” (Bedau). With no intention of moving, Rosa Parks said more with her actions then violence at that time could have. A strong woman with tired feet made a difference by using civil disobedience. Rosa Parks not getting up to give her seat to a white man was punished but many around the country heard of her great courage.


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If a law is passed, placed and enforced then it is asking to be broken. According to Aquinas, “if a civil law conflicts with the natural law or with the eternal law, not only may we violate it, we must violate it”. Everyone does not and will not interpret laws the same way and with the same meaning. Because of this people need to stand up for what they believe if a law is contradicting their morals and values.

Henry David Thoreau is one person and perhaps was the first in America to take a stand for his beliefs in a civil disobedient manner. Thoreau gave a lecture before the Concord Lyceum in January 1848, “On the Relation of the Individual to the State” later titled “Civil Disobedience” (Bedau). Disagreeing with the Massachusetts war tax Thoreau refused to pay, as a result ended up in jail. Thoreau got his point across, by refusing to pay the tax and was successful. Thoreau also opened others eyes to the problem in Texas. When one man stood up and revolted against a law, democracy was changed. The questioning of laws would continue and raise opinions that might not be noticed if civil disobedience did not take place. Laws that are controversial when passed are laws more likely to be involved in civil disobedience.

Outside abortion clinics is a widely held place for civil disobedience to occur. Pro-life protesters sit in front of clinic doors to prevent pregnant women from entering to kill the unborn. Those participating are non-violently and publicly showing they are opposed to the pro-choice law. The Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade stated that women have the choice to have an abortion. Protestors are not necessarily breaking that law but protesting it because they object to and think it is wrong.

On the opposing side, some think that civil disobedience causes disrespect for laws. Civil disobedient people are not law violators. The law that is being broken is done so for the reason that someone thinks that law is morally wrong not just to revolt. It is simply a way to draw attention to a specific topic. Civil disobedience is a much better solution than chaos and riots which both draw awareness to the idea of a law being immoral.

The idea of civil disobedience has worked in the past to change laws and will continue to make a difference in the future. The government knows that there have been wrong doings in the past, such as slavery and segregation. One of the many reasons that slavery was abolished was for the countless people that participated in civil disobedience. If a stand was not taken the government might not have known how wrong the laws were and nothing might not have changed. How can one say that something that has such an influence be wrong? Our government is based on “of the people, for the people and by the people” there is no way a country that is run on this basis can expect the people not to object to laws put in place that they oppose to. Laws need to be objected to and questioned in order benefit society.

Civil disobedience is justifiably done in objection to laws. Rosa Parks and Thoreau are just two of scores of people who have stood up for themselves using civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a way of helping to make a better government and grow as a society. The past proves that mistakes have been made and maybe presently more are being made. The only way to show disagreement or protest to a law is to do so non-violently and publicly. This method attracts more of an audience and gets the point across without doing harm. Standing up for what an individual believes should be embraced not looked at as wrong. Those who have taken a stand are now viewed as heroes for what they have done, if nothing was protested nothing would have changed. Civil disobedience is definitely justifiable in every sense of the word.



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