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.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.
-Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, 16 April 1963
These ideas are considered poisonous in today’s public sphere. The elites of our country will tell you that it is dangerous to mix religious beliefs and laws.
But today we get to remember a man who stood against that idea. He stood against real oppression and injustice because he knew it was against the law inscribed by God. And if the State was out of step with this law he did not believe he was to keep his religous views private. Instead we was willing to openly defy the states laws and consider them unjust. The State was below God and the State was only just when it coherred to God’s laws. Very dangerous ideas in our day and age.
And so today we remember the ideas and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. He was imperfect like the rest of us but grace used him to accomplish great things. I am for thinking biblically about what he thought and did and rejoicing in what he got right. Lets rejoice in the equality that has been won by his work and remember The Lord who gave him his vision of equality.