1985 Oct 6 – 27th Sun Ord Time (Bulletin Letters)
At the last Priest Regional Meeting I was asked to write up brief descriptions and explanations of some key concepts to help explain why some of us priests are ready to use direct non-violent means of intervention to help keep family farmers on their land. This week’s segment is on Civil Disobedience. The following weeks will deal with Divine Obedience, Love Based/Faith Centered Non-Violent Direct Action and Rights/Property/Persons. I welcome any feedback you might have.
One of the best-kept secrets in American History is the key role that civil disobedience has played in making us who we are today. Few Americans stop to think of our founding parents as lawbreakers, yet that is what they were. The Boston Tea Party was anything but a party. One of the best known and well thought out proponents of civil disobedience in American History was Henry David Thoreau. He spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a war tax in protest of the Mexican American War. His essay “On Civil Disobedience” is considered a classic.
A person who practices civil disobedience chooses to break a law that is either unjust in itself, or is a just law being used to foster an unjust situation. The law is broken in a civil manner. The lawbreaker makes no attempt to avoid being prosecuted and is willing to take the consequences for their actions. Far from being disrespectful of the law, people who have practiced civil disobedience show the highest respect for the law. They are appealing to the ‘spirit’ of the law to see the rightness of their cause. They are asking society and the law to evolve to embrace the truth they seek. Civil disobedience has played an important role in such issues as slavery, women, labor and civil rights. Civil disobedience has also played an important role in past struggles to preserve the family farm.
The use of civil disobedience is reserved for serious matters and only after all other channels have been tried and failed.