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Posted: September 12th, 2023

Read/View Letters from a Birmingham Jail

Read/View Letters from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and answer the following questions as well as engage with your colleagues by responding to at least 2 posts.
What does he say is the difference between just and unjust laws?
What does he also say about the difference between law and morality?
Do you agree with his reasoning?
Do you see any downside to making these sorts of distinctions?
Lastly King writes, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute understanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with this statement? Explain.
Explain your views. Write 350 words

Just and Unjust Laws: A Discussion on King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
In his iconic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes a distinction between just and unjust laws. For a law to be considered just, King argues it must align with “natural law” and “moral law.” Unjust laws, on the other hand, are those that “degrade human personality” (King, 1963).
King says unjust laws are not laws at all, as a law implies some moral authority which unjust laws clearly lack. Such laws serve only to “oppress and degrade” certain groups of people (King, 1963). For example, King viewed laws enforcing racial segregation as unjust, as they denied basic human dignity and equality. Just laws, by contrast, use the moral power of government to uphold every person’s inherent rights and worth.
This distinction between law and morality is an important one. While governments create laws, morality comes from a higher authority – namely, human conscience and ethics. As King states, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God” (King, 1963). When positive laws contradict moral and natural law, civil disobedience becomes a moral duty according to King. He deemed the nonviolent protests in Birmingham as necessary to challenge the injustice of segregation.
I agree with King’s reasoning here. Laws should aim to protect humanity’s shared moral values of equality, dignity and fairness. When they undermine these values instead, civil disobedience offers a principled means of reform. At the same time, King acknowledges drawbacks to distinguishing law from morality too starkly. It risks weakening the authority of government and the rule of law overall if every person judges laws solely by their own subjective view of morality (King, 1963).
A balanced approach is needed. Citizens should respect duly enacted laws but also question them charitably to ensure justice for all. Nonviolent protest then serves as a constructive channel for reform when moral arguments fail to change unjust policies. In this way, King’s letter offers timeless wisdom on navigating the complex relationship between law, ethics and social change.
In conclusion, King’s distinction between just and unjust laws, as well as his view of the relationship between law and morality, provides a thoughtful framework for considering how to enact positive legal and social reform in a principled manner.

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