OPINION – A question I like to pose to aspiring political candidates is whether or not there is a tax rate so high that the people would be under no obligation whatsoever to pay it. None has ever given me a pat answer to this question.
I’m not trying to make them squirm, though that’s exactly what happens most of the time. In reality, it’s a simple way to determine whether a candidate recognizes the potential for unjust laws and the need for civil disobedience.
The American public has been increasingly conditioned to think of any mention of disobedience in the same light as treason or rebellion.
Yet there are individuals throughout history whose disobedience was instrumental in exposing unjust laws for what they were. Whether it was Daniel in the days of King Darius, Gandhi leading the crusade for Indian independence, or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat, each is celebrated for peacefully defying unjust laws.
In each case, the above-mentioned individuals chose to stand for their God-given rights that the prevailing laws sought to deny them. Each of them was imprisoned and punished for their disobedience, but their valiant stands served to correct official injustices. At some point, they chose to disobey rather than conform or suffer in silence.
The choice to engage in civil disobedience is not the same thing as merely promoting lawlessness. It is occasionally a necessary part of good citizenship in the sense that Aristotle described when he wrote, “The citizen in an unqualified sense is defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office.”
When we contractually establish governments for the purpose of securing and guaranteeing our inalienable rights, we are not morally bound to obey laws that are injurious to those rights. To put it more bluntly, we have no moral obligation to obey tyrannical or unjust laws.
There are times when negotiation or compromise may be sufficient to correct an unjust law. But the solution can never come at the expense of our innate rights. David Edward Garber sums it up nicely, “So, when a criminal wants to murder us, we shouldn’t bother to try to compromise for a mutilation, likewise, when a tyrant wants to enslave us, we shouldn’t try to compromise for partial bondage, instead, but should firmly stand our ground as we lobby and vote and such.”
This is where a clear understanding of the proper role of government is indispensable. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the only people capable of making such distinctions wear black robes and work for the very entity they’re supposedly keeping in check. But this is not true.
The proper role of our government should be easily discerned by reading original sources from those who framed it. The Constitution was written to establish and define a limited government of specific, enumerated powers. It did not create a blank check for opportunists and power-seekers to ruthlessly rule every aspect of our lives.
Now that successive generations of Americans are no longer familiar with, much less devoted to, the foundational ideals of good government, bad laws are proliferating.
There have been power-hungry people in every age and society of human history. In this respect, we are no different from other societies that either supported tyranny or apathetically allowed others to support it. The need to stand against bad laws was understood by St. Augustine of Hippo when he said, “An unjust law is no law at all” as well as by Thomas Jefferson who noted, “When injustice becomes law, resistance is duty.”
The great challenge here for most of us is being able to confidently discern between just laws that deserve our support and unjust laws that warrant disobedience.
Laws that put us at odds with our most deeply held core values require us to make the choice to either acquiesce or to resist when redress is not possible. In order to have the faith of Daniel, the conviction of Gandhi, or the courage of Rosa Parks in standing against injustice, our moral compass must be calibrated and properly oriented.
We must be like Henry David Thoreau who, while in jail for refusal to pay a poll tax, was asked by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Why are you here?” Thoreau’s reply was, “Why are you not here?”
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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