One of the most important legal issues for the common person of any country is the decision to either follow one’s moral compass or abide by the rules of the state in instances where those two standards do not match up. In my opinion it is imperative that every citizen define their own moral standard or at least be able to make sure that the laws of their nation match up more or less with their own morals. If they do not, I believe that there are a number of steps that these citizens should take to make their moral opinions heard, the most extreme of which would be civil disobedience.
If a citizen finds a law to be unjust the first of the steps one must take is political activism. Let us take as an example the laws against assisted suicide of terminally ill adults. If one were to find these laws immoral, then one must act immediately to politically oppose the creation and implementation of these laws. Lawful, peaceful protests and petitions should be created against the supposed unjust law. If there is mass support for the movement then this is probably the last step that needs to be taken because a resolution seems imminent.
Problems arise however when peaceful protest and political activism are not enough to alter the unjust laws of a society. If, in the same case as before, one were to find oneself in the position of either assisting their friend in suicide or letting their suffering continue on, that person may decide that activism and protest are not timely enough. In this case, the person is likely to think along the lines of St. Thomas Aquinas Martin Luther King, Jr. in that “that which is not just seems to be no law at all” (Summa Theologiae I-II:95:2) and that breaking an unjust law or non-law is “in reality expressing the highest respect for law” (Letter From A Birmingham Jail). The next step is then peaceful, civil disobedience.
Peacefulness and respect for the penalties of breaking the law are of utmost importance in cases of civil disobedience, because without those qualities you are no longer respecting the institution of law but spitting in its face. As a citizen of a specific country you have a duty to respect the law and the institution upholding the law, but no specific duty to follow those laws. Aside from that, breaking the law in any manner other than a peaceful, respectful one will do nothing but hurt the cause for which you are fighting, a point that Dr. King knew well.
Civil disobedience is an important part of the formation of laws in our country, and one that every citizen should be aware of today. Without the benefits that come from the sacrifices of those who commit these civil disobediences, many laws which people today would find unjust would still be in place.