Okay to Break the Law?

In light of the recent social climate i would love to share a few different viewpoints on civil disobedience and a few historial opinions on when/if it’s okay to break the law. I don’t want to spout off my personal view points on this, but i would like to look at what history says and people who have been a part of shaping our history during tumultuous times.

Abraham Lincoln:  “Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.” Originally delivered in 1838.

“When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.”

  • It appears the Abraham Lincoln believes that laws are sacred and should be followed at all costs. He does believe that bad laws exists. However, they should be dealt with through the “proper channels.”

Henry David Thoreau: “Resistance to Civil Government.” Originally published in 1849.

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

  • Thoreau here contends that bad laws sometimes “fix themselves” and other times we need to break the law. He argues that we need to break laws that cause us to inflict injustice on someone else. Thoreau, in this published work, also mentions that government need to cherish its “wise minority” and be able to anticipate potential law changes in advance.

The Apostle Paul: From his first letter to Timothy Chapter 2 verses 1-3.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

  • Paul’s doesn’t really speak here on if there are ever circumstances for breaking the law. He is stating that whatever the case may be, whoever our leader may be, whatever the laws may be, we need to pray. I think that’s an amazing concept. The fact that our prayers are powerful enough to change people is an incredible concept. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was through prayer that Christianity became decriminalized in 313 (edict of Milan) under the Emperor Constantine who was also baptized shortly before his death.

Martin Luther King Jr.US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 – 1968)

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. believes that when our conscience would be violated by the following of any law, if we truly care about the law we would break it.

Mahatma Gandhi: Non-violence in Peace and War 1942-49

“An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. Now the law of nonviolence says that violence should be resisted not by counter-violence but by nonviolence. This I do by breaking the law and by peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment.”

  • Gandhi contends that an unjust law is violent in and of itself and it is appropriate to break it and accept the consequence for breaking of the said law.

Personal Thought: The common thread i see through all of these perspectives is the acknowledgement that unjust laws are a real thing and we cannot die the existence of unjust laws. How each person has dealt with this injustice throughout history varies.

Throughout history, there has always been injustice and unjust laws…to deny it exists in todays age would be to deny our history.

Please share your thoughts!