An Analysis of Unjust and Just Laws in America in the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the numerous notable influential speakers wrote a life changing letter after being imprisoned by the police for peacefully marching in protest rights. When being placed in the local jail Dr. King received a letter from clergymen questioning his aspirations and timings for being in Birmingham. In a response Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes a “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vividly conveying the complications centered around the world of discrimination and his thoughts about it. He goes on and also describes various things about just and unjust laws which tie directly into segregation in which was a major issue he struggled to resolve during the course of his life.

In our country there are two types of laws. We have just laws and unjust laws. The utter difference between just laws and unjust laws is based on the fact that a just law is something that is morally right, whilst an unjust law is a law this is that is not morally right for someone to do. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., he rightly defines “just” laws and “unjust” laws by saying, “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.” (P 7). In saying this, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggests that a just law is a law that also corresponds with the law of God. If something is unfitting to God and his law it should be a poor standard on earth as well, but if something directly relates to the law of God it should be also endorsed here on earth.

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Martin Luther King recognized that segregation was not merely rooted in unjust laws, but from parties who positioned the laws on minorities expecting them to adhere to. However, these majority groups fail to conform to the law themselves, therefore making it unjust. Dr. King Jr. believed that we ought to never comply with an unjust law. He believed it essential for individuals to abide unjust laws in non-violent approaches in order to achieve civil rights. Dr. King Jr. strictly makes sure to illustrate that regardless of the fact that a law is established socially and legally absolutely does not make it just. Just because the entirety of the environment of society conducts and performs a particular law does not render the law morally appropriate and consequently by performing a just law you are exercising what is morally proper. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provides us an extremely good illustration of this by bringing up the situations of the Holocaust and how Hitler established a law that made it against the law to give assistance to a Jew regardless if they were in significant need of it! “We can never forget that everything 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. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal” (P 8). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. claims that if he was in Germany during this oppression, he would help a Jew in a great desire of help, even though it was against the law, simply because it is morally right! Not helping somebody who truly needs help in any fashion would be against the law of God therefore making the law that Hitler proclaimed unjust as well.

A form of unjust laws today would be legalized abortion. It is a widely known and proven fact that an unborn child does in fact possess a heartbeat making it a live human being. Abortion takes the unborn child and renders it helpless therefore killing it which is illegal because the law states that no man should kill another human being. Also, Today, if a person goes to jail for a felony they lose their fundamental right to vote. This law is unjust because it conflicts with the law the every citizen over 18 has the legal right to vote. What is a man that has a recorded felony going to do with a voting ballot? Unless, if the felony he was charged with what voter fraud then the law is just, but if it was for murdering a person it is now unjust.

While there are many unjust laws in the United States they actually are all around the world. As in places like the Middle East and North Korea and even China, it is against the law to believe in Jesus Christ. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentions that, “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal” (P 7). If one were to live in one of these Communist countries where the idea of Jesus Christ is forbidden, one would follow that law. The minority, those who believe in Christ, are suppressed because they are not apart of the majority’s view of it.

All throughout the course of history, there have been many unjust laws. Many individuals go along with laws unjust because they are legally conformed laws and do not even bringing in consideration of how unjust it truly is. Sometimes people do not even coincide with a law, but they go along because it’s societally advocated or for the simple reason that it’s just the law. I would say that by writing the letter, and incorporating the explanation of just and unjust, King is challenging his audience to contemplate whether or not a law is just. In the event that a law is unjust, it should be the accountability of the people to get it abolished. A society should never put up with an unjust law.

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An Analysis of Unjust and Just Laws in America in the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. (2022, Jun 10). Retrieved from