What is law? Law is a system of rules used to govern a society and control the behaviors of its members. In this case, Martin Luther King is charged for breaking a law. King questions the differences between just and unjust laws to justify his actions in Birmingham and the charges of breaking laws willingly. Defending his willingness to break laws, King argues, “How can you advocate breaking laws and obeying other? ” He answers to accusation of his willingness to break laws with a well-written argument of what is just and unjust laws.
Martin Luther King uses the definition, the categories, and the implication of the law excellently to answer the charges of breaking laws willingly. King evaluates the difference between just laws and unjust laws to justify his actions in Birmingham. Understanding the difference between the laws, King believes that he is subject to breaking laws as long as they are unjust. King, also, emphasizes that his cause for breaking the law is in favor of equality for all people.
First, he defines what a law is in his own words.
He makes a clear distinction between the different categories of laws many times. He, then, differentiate that there are just laws and unjust laws. King’s definition of a just law is “any law that uplifts human personality is just” (PAR 12). Meanwhile, the definition provided for unjust laws is “any law that degrades human personality” (PAR 12). King addresses that just and unjust laws target the personalities of the segregated and segregator. The problem with segregation is that “it gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority” (PAR 12).
The difference in personalities leads people to believe they are better than others. It breaks the constitutional perception that “all men are created equal”. King believes “a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself” (PAR 13). Laws should be made and followed by everyone. Not only is he addressing to the clergyman what he believes a just law is, but he is also referring that the white people are enforcing unjust laws.
To further support his analysis of the law, King states a third definition of “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” (PAR 14). This definition is given to show that there are unjust laws occurring. This implies that the white people are devaluing democracy and what it stands for. He states after that, clearly, Negroes are not allowed to vote in the state of Alabama regardless if they are the minority or not. He is stating that it is unjust for Negroes not to be able to vote.
Although these statements do not directly answer the charges of the clergymen, King is building up to that answer. While defining the laws, King is focusing on what he believe is wrong and its relationship with unjust laws. King uses this technique to support breaking unjust laws to obey just laws. Defending his willingness to break laws, King argues, “How can you advocate breaking laws and obeying others” (PAR 11)? King uses the strategy of answering a question with a question. King was arrested for parading without a permit in Birmingham, AL.
The ordinance used against King was deemed unjust because it denies citizens the First-Amendment. King’s arrest is a prime example of breaking laws and obeying others. He accepted the charges of breaking the law, while, reinforcing that it was an unjust law that was broken. King’s willingness to accept the penalties for his crime reviles the injustice of unjust laws. He reinforces this idea by stating that in history many have displayed the similar tactics, referring to the Christians facing punishment before following the unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
King uses the clergymen’s religious backgrounds with this example to better relate and connect the clergymen with King’s actions and purpose. He also refers to Socrates practicing civil disobedience for academic freedom and progression. The overall audience can compare King’s civil disobedience to Socrates’. By referring to great men, King provides examples that have been concluded as serving mankind for the better. King relates the actions of great men in our history against unjust laws to his own actions.
It gives King’s penalty a sense of greater purpose. These examples also take the deliberate disobedience beyond the context of white man against the black man. His cause then becomes the fight for mankind’s progression. Being civilly disobedience to unjust laws is in turn having the highest respect and understanding for law. In a complex manner, King related the notion of segregation and unjust laws to the suppression of man’s advancement. King continuously defines the definition of a law to clearly state that he understands the repercussions of his acting.
He allows his audience to see that he has carefully thought about his action. King then justifies his action by demonstrates that he understands the difference between a just law and an unjust law. By doing so, he illustrates that there is a reason for his civil disobedience of the law. King demonstrates that he is not acting purely on impulse or ignorance. He is acting against a law that he believes degrades the human race. It not only destroys the morality of a fellow human being, it also violates the Constitution in which all men of the United States live by.
King tries to bring to light the discrimination that these laws have created. By accepting the punishment for his action, King demonstrates that not all the laws of the United States are unmerited. It is clear that there are laws that should be followed. King wants his audience to see that although we live in a nation of great worthy laws, there are still some that needs to be changed. It is those laws that are keeping the black man from advancing. It is those laws that are keeping the nation from progression. It is those laws that are keeping mankind from serving the greater good.
Cite this Martin Luther King, Just and Unjust
Martin Luther King, Just and Unjust. (2017, Mar 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/martin-luther-king-just-and-unjust/