Smith, Jessica October 16, 2012 Moral Decisions In life there are always either negative or positive consequences when an action is made. In Martin Luther King Jr. ’s essay “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he evaluates how one can advocate breaking some laws and obeying others. The reason it is possible to do such a thing is because there are two different types of laws, just and unjust. Depending on one’s morals, it can be morally right to advocate breaking some laws and obeying others. Since there are consequences of breaking and/or following laws, it can be considered as negative or positive.
It is an individual’s moral responsibility to disobey unjust law. According to St. Augustine, “If a law does not uplift a human personality it is to be considered immoral,” which leads to the law of segregation. In the time of segregation, Black Americans lived in misery and fear. One must consider where morals come from in order to determine if it is morally right to break or follow unjust and just laws. Everyone knows that morals vary from person to person. In order to understand why morals vary from person to person, one must know what morality is.
According to Logical and Critical Thinking website, morality is the belief or recognition that certain behaviors are either “good” or “bad”. The website also stated that morals are very easy to accept and only the fringes of society might question or reject them. In King’s essay “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he states “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? ” (218). He explains the reason by stating there are two types of laws, unjust and just. “Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (218). I believe this statement to be very accurate; the reason is because of how I personally grew up.
Since I was young, I was always told to become a leader and not a follower. My grandmother would always tell me not to follow or listen to someone that I personally knew was immoral. My morals are to respect others, help others, and strive for my goals. Ever since my early child years and still to this day, I would always help defend those in need and stand up for what is right. I honestly believe if I lived in the time of segregation, I would have stood up for what the Civil Rights Movement was trying to accomplish. The real question is, was it morally right for Dr. King to break the law? Well according to St.
Augustine, an early bishop of the Christian Church, yes it was morally right for King to do what he did. Augustine stated “Any law that uplifts human personality is just” (219). Consequently if a law that does not uplift ones personality, that law is considered unjust. Therefore, once one knows what morals are, they can independently decide whether or not to break or follow unjust and just laws. King’s essay “ Letter from Birmingham Jail”, evaluates the method one takes in determining whether it is right or wrong to break an unjust law. One may ask, how can you determine if a law is unjust or just?
In order to determine if a law is just or unjust, one has to know what both laws are. Augustine states, “A just law is a manmade 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” (219). Augustine also stated, “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law” (219). The way he describes the human made law, leads to when segregation was a law. If a law does not uplift a human personality, it is to be considered immoral, so it is then morally wrong to follow an unjust law.
According to the website Teaching About Citizens, segregation was a time when scores of Black Americans who attempted to obtain their economic, political and social rights endured beatings, bombings, lynchings, and mobs of white individuals who refused to allow black citizens their civil rights. Therefore, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. There are consequences when one makes a decision. When deciding to break an unjust law, it may take into consideration by higher authority why that law was broken. Although there are consequences when a law is broken, if that law is immoral, then it is morally right to disobey that law.
When an unjust law is broken, violence may occur. According to the website The Civil Rights Movement, blacks who registered to vote were assassinated and any blacks that fought for their rights in any way were met with a reign of terror. This Civil Rights Movement article also discussed the situation of Rosa Parks, an activist in the National Association for the Advancement of Black people. Rosa Parks is a great example of how violence may occur and reputation is made when an unjust law is made. In December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested and fined $10 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. When she fought back, the lack trade union used her case to organize a one-day boycott of the buses. The example of Rosa Parks is a prime example of what can and will happen when a moral responsibility of disobeying an unjust law is met. When taking an initiative as Rosa Parks did, violence may occur, reputations are made, and justice may be served. In conclusion, depending on one’s morals, it is morally right to advocate breaking some laws and obeying others. Additionally there are consequences when decisions are made, the outcome of what may be considered a bad decision can eventually be seen as a positive choice and justice can be served.