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When Civil Disobedience Is Justified

Civil disobedience is a popular way of changing laws without violence. This is an option when we can no longer use the normal channels like legislation or petitions to update our laws. If an unjust law persists on the books after all the usual means have been tried, this is a great option for changing the law. Today, I’ll discuss why that’s the case, and how we go about doing it properly.

Listen to the Podcast here:

What is Civil Disobedience?

It is the non-violent, noncompliance with unjust laws that is ordered towards changing the laws. So there are three parts to my definition. First, the law has to be unjust and that has to be demonstrated. Then, the action taken has to be non-violent. And lastly, the form of protest must be set up to have the effect of changing the unjust law.

Examples of Civil Disobedience

  • Nonenforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act
  • Sit-ins during segregation
  • Christians worshipping when Christianity was illegal
  • Thoreau not paying taxes to a government that enforced slavery
  • Gandhi taking the Indian people to the ocean to make salt

Questions to Consider

  1. When is civil disobedience morally justified?
  2. How do you protest properly?
  3. Is the law I'm protesting unjust?
  4. How am I going about my protest?
  5. What are the results I'm looking for?
  6. What are the potential risks?

Civil Disobedience Quotes

“It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”

― Henry David ThoreauCivil Disobedience

"Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law. And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you're risking, what you're bringing onto yourself, does not serve as a detriment to anyone else. It doesn't hurt anybody else."

- Edward Snowden

"Thoreau points out clearly that civil disobedience gets its moral authority by the willingness to suffer the penalties from disobeying a law, even if you think that law is unjust."

-Michael Hayden

Thoreau's Civil Disobedience

This is a great work by Thoreau, that I recommend everyone reads. It is a reflection by Thoreau about how we can go about disobeying laws properly, and when one is justified in doing so. And, Thoreau put his money where his mouth is and accepted the punishment for disobeying the law. He spent time in jail for not paying his taxes to what he believed to be a corrupt system. He said it would be unconscionable to pay taxes to a government that allows for slavery.

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