ON CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE & NATURAL LAW

Recently, the Oklahoma Supreme Court voted to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state capitol. This ruling was based upon the principle that the Ten Commandments are a bedrock of the Judeo-Christian tradition and have no bearing on the affairs of the state. As a recent Politico article states, the monument “violates the state constitution, which bans using public property for the benefit of a religion.”

Notably, the monument’s construction was privately funded. Several state legislators are calling for the justices to be impeached and have also proposed a measure that would allow state residents to “vote on removing the portion of the state constitution that the court relied upon in its ruling.” Furthermore, Governor Mary Fallin has refused to comply with the Court’s mandate.

Whether you agree with the governor or not, she does have a right to refuse to obey a law that she thinks is unjust. Civil disobedience is by no means a novel or contemporary construct. As the great theologian Augustine once stated, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Thomas Aquinas defined an unjust law as one based upon human law that is not embedded in eternal law or natural law. It is worth mentioning Aquinas’s extrapolation of the different types of law. Eternal law is the law of the entire universe. It is the core principle, in God, for the control of all things. Since we can’t read God’s mind, He has told us what we need to know and has revealed His law to us in the Word of God, or the Bible—this is the divine law. The divine law is necessary because left to our own devices, reason could not get us to a proper understanding of God. Natural law flows from eternal law. Here, we use reason in order to find the eternal law installed in us by God. Basically, everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong. Human law therefore has one purpose according to Aquinas: to help us obey natural law and nothing more. Human law is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.

Hence, civil disobedience isn’t disobedience per se but rather obedience to a higher, more pure set of codes, rules, and guidelines. The noncompliance to inferior standards thus becomes less of an active choice and more of a passive occurrence out of submission to God’s law.

The only “dilemma” people end up battling is asking themselves where their true allegiance lies.

Those who defy unjust laws tend to be villainized when they disobey, but lionized by modernity. History always seems to reveal and clarify their heroism in the face of adversity and immoral prejudice. In fact, our modern world exists because of the fearless dedication to a more righteous form of law exemplified by brave men and women such as William Wallace, the American Revolutionaries, Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Their dedication in actuality required civil disobedience, so the conveniences of the West in the 21st century are in part due to the tireless work of “renegades,” “revolutionaries,” and “troublemakers.” Many liberties that we take for granted exist not because the government benevolently granted them but because of those who refused to obey.

History has taught us that good triumphs over evil only when brave individuals boldly stand against perversions of the law that dare to defy eternal law for the sake of human conveniences.

The opposite, then, of a game-changing innovator is actually two different types of people: (1) one who sheepishly submits to human law, succumbs to its wickedness and consequently rejects natural law outright, and (2) those who are aware of natural law, but when confronted with a gross violation of this rule, choose to do nothing. It is normally at this juncture that laments have their most acute power:

“Is it nothing to all you who pass this way?
Look and see if there is any pain like my pain
Which was severely dealt out to me” (Lamentations 1:12a).

A narrative of human society plays out as follows: A discrepancy exists between human law and natural law. Counter-cultural “agitators” execute civil disobedience. Civil disobedience starts a movement, and movements change the world. Society moves forward until the next discrepancy is unearthed.

Mahatma Gandhi executed civil disobedience in defiance of tyranical British policies that ultimately led to Indian self-rule and a host of other gains in civil rights.

Harriet Tubman executed civil disobedience in defiance of the Dred Scott decision and led an innumerable number of slaves to their freedom through the Underground Railroad.

In the Civil Rights Era, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks executed civil disobedience in defiance of laws that mandated segregation and denied persons of color their natural rights. The result was the enactment of human laws that more closely aligned with natural law.

Dr. King once said that people have a “moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” It follows then that law is not always the best barometer of acceptable behavior, and recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson remind everyone that even those who enforce the law (cops) themselves act in less than admirable ways. The only way to ascertain what is truly “unjust” is to look beyond the fragile and susceptible human beings who craft the law. We have to look toward something that transcends cultural, societal and temporal norms. We have to look for something that is separate, distinct, and superior to men and women, for how could we ever expect sinful humans to ever craft a code of law that does not create conflict and is totally deprived of self-interest? Here, again, we find the perpetual solution in eternal law, revealed to us through divine law and implanted in our consciousness by natural law.

One of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, defined good government as one that “shall restrain men from injuring one another [and] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits.” Yes, and these powerful words still ring true today because the inalienable rights bestowed upon humankind result as a function of the Creator, and thus humanity cannot be regulated by secular authority. I wrote last week that the South Carolina State Capitol should have removed the Confederate flag because the government ought not to have any opinions. The same reasoning may apply in the case of the Oklahoma State Capitol, but we are no longer addressing a question of a historical and ideological symbol specific to a region of our nation. Now we are talking about a representation of God’s eternal law, revealed to all of humanity, that forms the basis upon which our “Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness” is built upon. Without God’s law and without the Ten Commandments, there is no central order governing our world. What is left is a chaotic, nebulous void where words have no meaning, human life is insignificant, and “rights” belong in the daydreams of poets.

The United States of America was built upon a foundation of natural law, and that law has its origin in God. To remove the Ten Commandments from the Oklahoma State Capitol in essence equates to rejecting the Creator and thus the very premise of freedom upon which America was built.

Who are we to reject the Lawmaker? The Founding Fathers dared not even consider this question:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness … (The Declaration of Independence, 1776).”

 

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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