Is civil disobedience ever justified? This question has been posed for centuries, especially when a law is deemed inappropriate or unacceptable and when the person breaking the law staunchly believes this act is morally justifiable. There have been individuals who have protested wars and marched for civil rights in an attempt to cause change. This article will examine civil disobedience and the impact it has had on society at large.
What is Civil Disobedience?
Civil disobedience is defined as “a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies. On this account, the persons who practice civil disobedience are willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, as this shows their fidelity to the rule of law.”
It is when individuals knowingly refused to abide by the law or within a civilized manner protest the law. Distinctive measures of civil disobedience have aided in imposing a re-examination of society’s moral boundaries. As seen in the Vietnam War, student sit-ins during this time proved to be an effective measure for supporting social change. The purpose for the marches, sit-ins and rallies was to end the war and cry out our opposition against the war and against our involvement.
In another example, Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts of moral and civil disobedience activism was a cry to end racial segregation and discrimination. The “I Have a Dream Speech”, the march to Washington D.C. and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” brought the Civil Rights Movement to the national spotlight and brought about change and equity for all. These acts are examples of not only civil disobedience but how positive means can bring about productive change.
Violations of Civil Liberties
There are examples of acts of civil disobedience in which the consequences violated our civil liberties. It is said that during times of war, our civil liberties are not in the forefront but instead remain in the background. For example, although we have such liberties as the freedom of speech, “In 1965, the Georgia Legislature refused to allow civil rights activist Julian Bond to take his elected seat in the state House because he made comments critical of the Vietnam war effort.”
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In the wake of Sept. 11th, the passage of the Patriot Act by some is considered an injustice to our First Amendment freedoms. As seen in the arrest and detention of citizens in the United States, these individuals were unjustifiably suspected of terrorism. Wiretapping has also increased since Sept. 11th which violates our freedom of privacy. It has resulted in thousands of citizens protesting these acts and demanding their civil liberties remain enforced.
Overall, in the interest of society at large, civil disobedience must continue to promote positive change. Past leaders such as Mandela, Gandhi and Dr. King broke society’s laws however with a purpose in mind to maintain civil liberties and civil rights. Do you know of a law that is unacceptable, perhaps considered improper? There are many who believe there is a need for civil disobedience.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Civil Disobedience
Constitutional Rights Foundation – The Patriot Act
Hudson, David. The First Amendment: A Wartime Casualty