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10 Jul 2012, 11:04
Every individual in a society has a responsibility to obey just laws and to disobey and resist unjust laws.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim. In developing and supporting your position, be sure to address the most compelling reasons and/or examples that could be used to challenge your position.
Today, societal members are understood as persons within individual liberties and responsibilities granted to them and denied by none. However, the idea that societal members have the individual responsibility to disobey and resist the very laws, enacted by their elected officials, meant to protect their liberties is a dangerously arbitrary ideal, which immediately gratifies particular persons but does not ameliorate the situation without a civil society response. Individuals in society do not have the authority or inherent responsibility to determine , and thus undermine via disobedience, “unjust laws” from “just laws.”
The notion that some laws are “just” while others are “unjust” is an arbitrary mode of determining whether or not to obey a legitimately proscribed law upon society. For an individual who makes less than $10,000 annually, who routinely turns in his/her tax forms, versus someone who makes over $100,000 a year, who decides to not turn in his/ her tax returns as a result of viewing the law as unjust, is an arbitrary distinguishment that is determined not holistically but individually on personal experience(s). Laws are designed and enacted by elected representatives to ensure society is protected and kept under the same standards as everyone else. For one person to decide he/she will not pay an unjust car fine, because he/she sees it as an unfair situation than perhaps a more wealthy individual, thus, renders the societal-individual standard for determining a law “just” or “unjust” disparaged by personal experience, not societal principle. One or several individuals deciding whether or not a law is “just” or “unjust” is an arbitrary mode of civil disobedience that ultimately de-legitimizes elected governments and disregards active participants engaged in civil society.
While disobedience and resistance to “unjust” laws is seen as a collective responsibility of each member of society, in actuality, society’s true responsibility is to be actively involved in civil society. While several neighbors may complain about noise ordinances in their community, ultimately, their responsibility is to be active in local affairs to seek redress, not rack up noise violations. By actively protesting in a legitimate forum, neighbors not only illustrate the ordinance’s “unjust” qualities, but such denunciation publicly allows other individuals to comprehend their argument and thereby create coalitions of similarly-minded individuals seeking to repeal such an act. Active participation in civil society is the only legitimate but also inherent responsibility individuals hold when seeking to repeal laws that are deemed unjust. Furthermore, active engagement in local civil affairs sets an example for other members of society to emulate through reciprocal public involvement.
The argument that disobeying and resisting certain unjust laws is an individual responsibility, however, has valid points. Communal engagement is a slow meticulous process that results over long periods of time and persuasion to others. Even when such communal coalitions are amalgamated one cannot expect all members of society to be as actively engaged. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, she set in motion a terrific example of how to defy prejudice in a racially stigmatized region. Yet there is a reason why such disobedience exhibited by Parks to “unjust” laws today is not emulated profusely: laws have consequences when broken. While the Civil Rights Movement eventually became an enormous collective response to segregation, individuals that openly defied laws without first seeking legal recourse, such as the student sit-ins, more often resulted in partisan and violent divisions. While the 1964 Civil Rights Acts signified a correction of “unjust” state-wide policies, its enactment however, could have occurred earlier if legitimate legal recourses were and continually sought beforehand, such as in the famous Supreme Court case Brown v. Board (1954).
Individually, societal members have the responsibility to obey laws that are drafted and passed by constituently elected officials . However, when such laws majorly violate principles society enjoys, their inherent responsibility is engage and participate in civil society, as seen recently in the discarding of SOPA and PIPA, rather than rely on individuals to arbitrarily determine “just” from ”unjust.”