Monday, November 30, 2009
The Los Angeles Times
Philosophers have argued for centuries over whether it is ever justifiable to break the law in the service of a higher cause. The question acquired a new complexity with the advent of societies such as the United States, in which laws were enacted by elected representatives and not decreed by a monarch or dictator.
Few today would criticize civil rights activists, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for participating in or condoning the violation of laws that perpetuated white supremacy -- with the understanding that they would face punishment for their actions. But such civil disobedience is rightly regarded as the exception that proves that the proper redress for unjust laws lies in legislation or in court rulings based on the Constitution.
That cautious approach has been thrown to the wind by Christian religious leaders who, even as they insist on their right to shape the nation's laws, are reserving the right to violate them in situations far removed from King's witness.
Last week, a group of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders released a “declaration” reminding fellow believers that "Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required." Then, after a specious invocation of King, the 152 signers hurl this anathema at those who would enact laws protecting abortion or extending the rights of civil (not religious) marriage to same-sex couples:
"Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality. . . . We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar's. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God's."...(Remainder.)