Should we be allowed to break the law?
September 14, 2013
Philosophers, scholars, activists and judiciary officials, among others, have often concerned themselves with whether or not breaking the law can be justified. Some questions through which this query has been posed include, Should people be allowed to break the law? Should individuals be able to ignore the laws in which they do not believe? Can breaking the law ever be justified, morally or ethically?
In his situation, King discusses how many other countries are moving forward in how they develop and treat others. He criticizes the United States as they creep forward with the pace of a horse and buggy when it comes to civil rights. He discusses how those who were not while have been lynched, beaten, killed, prosecuted, turned away from and denied access to certain places and ridiculed with mean language. King and his followers supported the de-segregation ...view middle of the document...
Rawls believed that there must be a clear injustice, the act of disobedience must be a public act which is both non-violent and non-threatening in nature and the perpetrator(s) must be willing to accept full responsibility, including the penalties, for acting in their proposed manner. In addition, the acts must be carried out with fidelity to the law. These guidelines can be viewed as a reasonable set of criteria in determining whether or not an act is civil disobedience, which would be justifiable, or a blatant disregard of the law, which would not be justifiable (Grant, 2007, p. 2-3). To this extent, people should break laws that they do not believe in if they are unjust. However, individuals who do this should be prepared to and be willing to accept all responsibility for their actions, including the punishments and any other judicial consequences.
Non-violent civil disobedience, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others, including the environmental organization Greenpeace, can be said to be justified as “there is a history of long-standing harm or violation of people’s fundamental rights, when legal and policy means have failed to reduce the harms and violations, and when there is little time remaining to address the problems” (Zerbisias, 2011). Breaking the law for the sake of breaking the law is not justifiable. However, when it is performed within the specific criteria discussed herein, it may be justified. “People do not have the right to harm others who have not given their consent”, but civil disobedience, which is non-violent and non-threatening by its very nature, can be justified (Zerbisias, 2011).
Grant, S. (2007). Should we ever disobey the law?. Richmond Journal of Philosophy, 14 pp. 1-7. Retrieved from: http://www.richmond-philosophy.net/rjp/back_issues/rjp14_grant.pdf [Accessed: 15 Sep 2013].
The Atlantic (2013). Martin Luther King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/martin-luther-kings-letter-f%3Cbr%20/%3Erom-birmingham-jail/274668/%3Cbr%20/%3E%3Cbr%20/%3EAlso [Accessed: 15 Sep 2013].
Zerbisias, A. (2011). When breaking the law is justified. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2011/06/10/when_breaking_the_law_is_justified.html [Accessed: 15 Sep 2013].