Last Updated 10 Mar 2020

Just the Unjust for Martin Luther King Jr.

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When Martin Luther King Jr. was detained for having organized peaceful protests for the Negro community in Birmingham, he felt compelled to write the white clergymen who criticized the protesters instead of defending them from the immorality of segregation.  His letter accused the white clergy of not only ignoring the moral laws of God but also enacting against it because of their own prejudicial principles.  He explained the difference of just and unjust laws to show that he was merely giving his highest accordance to what is morally right.

First, he said that any law that degrades human personality is just but one that degrades human personality is unjust. Western civilization created laws to put order and respect to humanity.  However, segregation, according to King, distorts the soul and damages the human character because it gives the white people a false sense of superiority to degrade the dignity of Negroes.

He argues that segregation makes whites treat blacks as objects instead of considering them as people with feelings and rights like their own. Considering other people as inferior and not worthy of having the voice to speak out their needs is immoral because Christians are supposed to treat each other as brothers and not objects.

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In today’s American society, the woman’s right to abort her baby, I believe, is also a law that degrades the human personality.  Although women are given property over their bodies and have the right to protect their lives from problems, this does not mean that they can degrade another person – the fetus inside of them. Like the blacks that King was defending, babies have yet to find their voice in society.  It is even more inhumane to kill these babies because doing so murders the right they could have had to give their own opinion someday.

Another clarification made by King on the subject of just and unjust laws refers to the implementation of a majority group’s rules over a minority.  King believes that is unfair if a majority group forces a minority to obey but does not make the rules binding on itself. Western, specifically American laws, provided that each man must have the right to vote.

However, during his time, blacks were not considered as part of the American society with legal rights and therefore had no privilege to elect nor implement and revise the legal system. King believes that this is totally wrong because the laws that were being executed stepped on the human dignity and rights of the Negroes.  What the whites wanted, they got - even if it was hurtful to the lives of colored people. The law protected the white people but did not take the plight of the blacks in consideration.

This still happens in America today, although it does not necessarily just encompass the Negro community.  After the fatal attack on the World Trade Center, the Bush administration has decided to go full force against terrorism without enough consideration for the human rights of the Iraqi people.

The American military operations in Iraq have caused grievous insults to the dignity of the Iraqi civilians and even death.  Being the democratic majority globally, the American government has led other nations to invade another country and decided to impose its presence to “prevent” terrorism.  However, the cultural identity and traditional beliefs of the Iraqi people have been ignored greatly which I feel is very unjust.

King also pointed out that sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. He cited that the clergy and government were one-sided in enacting the First Amendment especially when it came to the parades and peaceful assemblies King’s organization was organizing.  He reminds the readers that all citizens must have the right to freedom of expression even if it means going against the government’s policies. He believed that legally binding laws do not always protect what is morally right.  He also mentioned that Hitler did everything legally but the results were terribly wrong and unjust to the Jews.

Laws, like most things, have advantages and disadvantages. Great care and analysis must be taken to understand what can be appropriately done for the gray areas.  American immigration laws, for example, can also be hurtful in its application if simply implemented without enough thought. U.S. deportation policies have become hurtful to many illegal immigrants who have lost their rights because they were not given enough consideration.

There are many illegal immigrants who desired that better democratic life that Americans have.  Many of these do not know how to speak English well and are victims of wrong criminal accusations causing their deportment. Many of these were not able to defend themselves properly and have had to carry the burden of being separated from their children who were already born in the U.S.

King’s Birmingham letter addresses the clouded and prejudiced vision of the white clergy but his clarifications on the justice of laws are classical principles that should guide every good citizen who wishes to follow any legal system.  In truth, laws are structures that help keep peace and order but one must consider everything from the view point of what is morally right and wrong.  Laws are merely man-made but the rule of God and nature should always be everyone’s primary guide.


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