Civil Disobedience

[Civil disobedience is] a violation of law with the intent of effecting a change in current policy, regarded as unjust by the citizens taking action. Important issues involved in civil disobedience include fidelity to the state, publicity of the disobedient act, the permissibility of violence in civil disobedience, and the acceptance of punishment on the part of the protesters.

These factors distinguish civil disobedience from acts of terrorism.

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Plato’s Crito and Apology present Socrates’ take on the issue. As chronicled in Re- source A, current politics is well versed in peaceful and not-so-peaceful civil disobedience, thanks to Gandhi’s struggle against colonialism, the sit-ins and freedom rides of the civil rights movement, and the antiapartheid and antinuclear campaigns. In a famous act of civil disobedience in December 1955, Rosa Parks disobeyed segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama, by refusing to give her seat to white passengers.

In his renowned “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” , the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained:

Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. [O]ne has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. . . . A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of the law of God.


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