What Is An Unjust Law?
- Marvin Harvey
Firstly, one must define what an unjust law is. According to Martin Luther King, an unjust law is ‘any law that degrades human personality’ (King 179). In other words, it is a law that is directed against a certain group of people or is inflicted on a minority.
What is an example of an unjust law?
Martin Luther King Jr. is a symbol of peace, justice and nonviolence, but he is often misquoted, misunderstood and invoked for nefarious purposes that have nothing to do with his legacy. While many like to speak of King’s “dream” and his commitment to peace, part of remembering him means understanding his belief that society has a responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
And right now in America, we have become the land of unjust laws and policies — from voter suppression to bans on teaching race and racism. In his ” Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King said we have a duty to disobey 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,” he wrote.
“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.'” King was unwavering in advocating for civil disobedience to break systems of oppression — disobeying unjust laws in the open, and with love.
- What is an unjust law? According to King, it’s one that degrades rather than uplifts humanity.
- Jim Crow segregation statutes were a prime example of unjust laws because “segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality,” as King noted.
- It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.” A law is also unjust if a numerical majority or a power majority imposes it on a minority yet the majority does not have to follow the law.
King used specific examples to make his point. Internationally, he pointed to Germany, writing: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’, It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” And, of course, sitting in a Birmingham jail cell, he spoke of how Alabama’s segregation laws that prevented Black citizens from voting were put in place by an undemocratically elected state Legislature (a power majority).
He pointed to the fact that not a single Black person was registered to vote even in some majority-Black counties. While he did not advocate lawbreaking, or as he said “evading or defying the law” like the “rabid segregationist,” King was unwavering in advocating for civil disobedience to break systems of oppression — disobeying unjust laws in the open, and with love.
After all, he believed that those who passively accepted evil without protesting it are perpetuating it and cooperating with it. “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,” King insisted.
This is a side of him that has been glossed over or even conveniently left out of the conversation. Meanwhile, there are people today who support unjust laws yet invoke King’s name when it is convenient. Supporting policies that directly oppose King’s dream for America, they cherry-pick his words without context to justify unjust laws.
Nothing about King’s actions or rhetoric — no matter how some may try to twist them — indicates that he would be satisfied with where America is on civil rights today. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., claim to support voting rights and to celebrate King’s vision and honor his legacy of freedom, justice and equality, yet they refuse to change the Senate filibuster rule that would allow for crucial voting rights legislation to pass and preserve multiracial democracy.
Sinema and Manchin exemplify the white moderate King described, that “great stumbling block” against Black freedom “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” and believes now is not a convenient time for freedom. In a 1963 interview, King cited the filibuster as stalling the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.” That same year at the March on Washington, King said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” GOP lawmakers who justified, supported or enabled the Jan.6 insurrection and appealed to white nationalists — such as Sen.
Josh Hawley of Missouri, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have quoted and twisted King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to attack critical race theory and deny the existence of systemic racism. Florida Gov.
Ron DeSantis, a Republican, name-dropped King last month in announcing an anti-critical race theory bill called the Stop Woke Act. The legislation would allow private parties, such as students, parents, employees and businesses, to sue schools and workplaces that teach critical race theory. “You think about what MLK stood for,” DeSantis said.
“He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character.” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called King “a transformational leader” and “a true American hero” who recognized “great injustice in this world” and took “the necessary steps to right that wrong.” Yet Kemp sat under a painting of a slave plantation as he signed a voter suppression law making it a crime to give food and water to people waiting in line to vote.
- In Texas — where the Legislature removed King from the state curriculum and ended the requirement to teach that the Ku Klux Klan was morally wrong — Sen.
- Ted Cruz praised King’s fight against racial inequality and injustice,
- This is the same person who has thrown his unwavering support behind Donald Trump, a president who denigrated Black women, whose administration operated migrant detention centers that one member of Congress compared to concentration camps and who advocated for measures that contribute to voter suppression,
Now is the time to remember that King, though nonviolent, was not a pushover. People in the U.S. are witnessing how the future of the country’s multiracial democracy is at stake because of unjust laws that aim to further ostracize marginalized voices. And we shouldn’t just stand aside and watch it happen.
We can use the power of our vote and our voices to hold elected officials accountable. Nothing about King’s actions or rhetoric — no matter how some may try to twist them — indicates that he would be satisfied with where America is on civil rights today. David A. Love David A. Love, a faculty member in journalism and media studies at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, is a writer based in Philadelphia.
He writes about race, politics and justice issues.
What is an unjust law simple definition?
An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote.
How do you know if a law is unjust?
An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – Intercollegiate Studies Institute In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’re sharing excerpts from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” one of the most important moral treatises of the twentieth century.
“One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. 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? How does one determine whether 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. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.
We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.” “. time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.”, We hand-pick the best of independent thought from around the web and deliver it to your inbox weekly. Sign up for the Intercollegiate Review! J.D. Vance, venture capitalist and author of Hillbilly Elegy, speaks on the American Dream and our Civilizational Crisis.
Remembering a prominent ISI alumnus Remembering a prominent ISI alumnus : An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – Intercollegiate Studies Institute
What is an example of unjust?
Something or someone that is unjust is just not fair. An unjust boss might fire you the very first time you’re late for work. You might think of the word justice in order to remember the meaning of the word just, which means “fairness or righteousness.” An unjust judge does not play by the rules; he might send a person to jail even though there isn’t enough evidence that a crime was committed.
adjective not fair; marked by injustice or partiality or deception synonyms: unfair below the belt disregarding the rules (from the notion of an illegal low blow in boxing) cheating, dirty, foul, unsporting, unsportsmanlike violating accepted standards or rules raw brutally unfair or harsh partial showing favoritism adjective violating principles of justice ” unjust punishment” “an unjust judge” “an unjust accusation” Synonyms: unfair not fair; marked by injustice or partiality or deception dishonorable, dishonourable lacking honor or integrity; deserving dishonor actionable affording grounds for legal action wrongful not just or fair wrong contrary to conscience or morality or law unrighteous not righteous adjective not equitable or fair
Are unjust laws actually laws?
An unjust law is no law at all, in Latin lex iniusta non est lex, is an expression of natural law, acknowledging that authority is not legitimate unless it is good and right. It has become a standard legal maxim around the world.
What makes a law unfair?
One is that unjust laws typically entail ‘ a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.’ A second is that unjust laws typically entail a code ‘inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or