Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
June 26, 2017
Are Christians Obliged to Obey Civil Authorities?
There is no question that most Americans are deeply divided on laws addressing difficult discussions between politics, culture, and religion. Americans not only seemed to be split by political morals, but by a culture that increasingly challenges the traditional landscape of both religion and American politics. Many people today support the separation between church and state. But can religious communities, such as Christians, leave out their beliefs when civil authorities enact laws that do not honor their religious values and moral principles of society? The duty of civil authorities is to establish order and form the moral character of individuals by exercising and enforcing the universal principles of justice granted to governments through Natural Moral Law. Thus, civil laws emphasize building good relations and moral character in individuals that is in harmony with the rest of society. Given that the United States continues to experience a dramatic increase of laws against Christian moral values, Christians are claiming that civil authorities have usurped their power. Christians believe that God ordained governments to established justice; however, civil authorities ought to represent and respect the dignity and nature of God’s people. Even though Christians embrace their moral responsibility to obey civil authorities, they are also making sure that the laws are just and in line with God’s plans for humanity.
In this paper, I will argue that Christians are not always obliged to obey civil authorities. First, I will outline Saint Augustine’s arguments in The City of God where he states that an unjust law is not a law after all. Therefore, Saint Augustine claims that Christians are not obliged to obey civil authorities when justice is absented from the laws. I will then outline Saint Thomas Aquinas’ arguments On Law, Morality and Politics in which he presents several convincing reasons of when Christians ought to disobey civil authorities. Next, I will also outline the arguments from Christians and non-Christians such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi who stood up against unjust laws through peaceful civil disobedience. Both King and Gandhi believe that when civil authorities have usurped power, they have no just authority. Furthermore, I will outline the arguments of the Catholic Church to make the case that laws supporting abortion and euthanasia are unjust laws since they fail to recognize the dignity and nature of the person. The Catholic Church doctrine recognizes the authority of civil governments. However, the Catholic Church restates that the highest authority is God. More importantly, the Catholic Church claims that the actions of civil authorities are subject to Divine Law. Lastly, I will outline Alasdair MacIntyre’s arguments in After Virtue (1981) where he states that those who are in power often manipulate the laws to serve their individual preferences. Even though Christians and non-Christians recognize the authority of governments, their call to civil disobedience against unjust laws is justified through rights granted to them through natural moral law or Divine law.
Today, many Christians in the United States and worldwide are denied the right to profess their faith. Christian moral values more than ever are questioned, attacked, punished, and increasingly forbidden. For instance, traditional marriage between a man and a woman, religious education, and religious celebrations such as Christmas and Easter are now seen by a secular and cultureless society as old-fashioned. On the contrary, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, among other acts seems to be the popular thing to do today. Civil authorities are increasingly pushing aside Christians’ religious moral values supposedly out of respect for non-believers, other traditions, and cultures. However, these same authorities are obligating Christians to submit to laws that clearly conflict with their religious moral values. Given that our dominant secular and cultureless society rule the public and political spheres, Christians cannot submit to laws that darken the souls of human beings. The Judeo-Christian tradition states that the basic premise that undergirds humanity is that each person is made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, civil authorities ought to learn that human dignity is grounded in the supernatural belief that God alone is the means and ends of all existing things. Therefore, no one under any circumstances can claim to be above Divine law.
Christians have moral and legal bases to disobey unjust laws. Most people will argue that disobeying the law is morally wrong; however, it is morally right to disobey human laws when they are not in accordance with the natural moral laws principle of justice. Therefore, civil authorities who obliged Christians to obey unjust laws act negligently, unethically, and immorally. Even though civil authorities claim that Christians who refuse to obey them break the law, the end justifies the means. Amin Forgi (2010) argues:
It would seem that arguments insisting on the compulsory observance of laws (political obligation) at all times are used as a tactic rather than genuine respect to the legal order, because they are never backed with a corresponding requirement for laws to be just at all times. If an act contrary to conscience is clearly immoral and the government compels its observance, it would mean the state in question wants citizens to act immorally. (163)
Christians recognize Divine law as their supreme authority. Thus, it is unreasonable for Christians to obey governments and laws that are in clear contradiction to the will of God. For Christians, obedience and submission is only proper when the laws are consistent with Sacred Scripture. Saint Paul states in the first seven verses of Romans 13 that Christians must pay taxes and that earthly rulers are servants of God. It is the moral obligation of Christians to disobey civil authorities when their actions become unjust and against the will of God. For instance, unjust laws and evil governments such as the Nazis and other dictator regimes abused their power to kill millions of innocent people. Given that the actions of these governments violated Divine Law, Christians should not obey nor submit to them. Instead, Christians ought to remember that they must first obey God rather than men as Acts 5:29 clearly states. Christians are often attacked for refusing to participate in actions against Christian moral values. However, nowhere in Scripture is written that Christians are to obey laws that contradict Divine law. For this reason, Jonathan Chaplin, A Christian View of the Role of Government (2010) states that, “Christians shouldn’t fall for the proceduralist argument and so allow their vision of the public good to be silenced by those who think pluralism means a neutral state” (4). Therefore, Christians ought to obey civil authorities only when governments stay within the bounds of their granted power.
Furthermore, Christians know and belief that Divine law trumps human laws. Therefore, Scripture provides them a moral basis to disobey unjust laws. For instance, many biblical heroes such as Prophet Daniel, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul became martyrs by refusing to obey unjust human laws. These saints understood that human laws are not sacrosanct, but that Divine law is. Throughout history, we have been given clear examples of Christians who obeyed God rather than men. Scripture also teaches that when the Prophets and Apostles were imprisoned for preaching the Word of God and for questioning their civil and religious authorities, upon their liberation they went back to fulfill God’s message. More importantly, Saint Paul states in Acts 5:29 that there are certain things civil authorities should not trespass, and when they do, Christians must disobey them in obedience to God. Even though the Prophets and Apostles recognized the authority of their rulers, they knew that they ought to disobey them when they stood between them and the will of God.
Jesus also provides a clear example of how civil authorities are below Divine law. For instance, Jesus told Pilate that he had no authority over Him other than what Pilate was granted from Heaven. Thus, Pilate’s authority to condemn Jesus to the crucifixion came from above by a direct commandment instructed by God to carry out the Plan of Salvation. Although Christians maintain their moral responsibility to pay tribute to Caesar, they ought to distinguish what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Christians may submit to civil authorities when it comes to paying taxes, revenues, commercials dues, among other civil responsibilities. However, Christians ought to disobey their civil authorities when they claim themselves the right to rule and when they have become corrupted by immoral actions that are contrary to Christian moral values. Romans 13 declares that civil authorities are God’s earthly ministers and that Christians should submit to the civil law. Nevertheless, Christians should only obey civil authorities as far as they are themselves submitted to Divine law. Therefore, Christians are not obliged to obey civil authorities who overcome good with evil acts. Similarly, civil authorities who have lost connection with Divine law lose their right to expect obedience from Christians. Even though Christians have always recognized the Divine warrant given to civil authorities, they remember that Christ himself told civil authorities that they had no power over Him.
Natural Law clearly states that God promulgates moral basis to humanity through nature. However, Saint Augustine claims that we cannot expect to find justice from those who do not serve God. Saint Augustine echoes Saint Paul by stating that civil authorities have power to establish laws as long as they do not conflict with Divine law. In addressing this argument further, Saint Augustine also claims that unjust laws or laws against the moral values of society ought to be rejected by Christians. Since the United States is increasingly failing to respect Divine law as its supreme authority, many immoral acts have become acceptable in modern culture. Furthermore, it seems that civil authorities are constantly changing the terminology so that these immoral acts can be carried out with impunity. For instance, civil authorities are increasingly promoting abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia as normal acts. Yet, the voices that condemn such acts are increasingly been attacked, marginalized, and punished. Additionally, civil authorities fail to recognize that legislative laws are subject to a Higher Law to which the Declaration of Independence sought to show that a moral law exists. Although both Saint Paul and Saint Augustine claim that it is good for men to be under authority, obedience is not owed to an unjust law. Civil governments may invoke respect for the freedom of others using their authority; however, cooperation with unjust laws cannot be justified. Thus, it is legitimate to resist civil authorities who have become corrupted through popular opinion. Even though Divine law encourages Christians to live submissive lives, Christians are obliged to resist the state when it does wrong. For this reason, Saint Augustine states that, “an unjust law is not a law after all,” since such laws lack moral requirements, they have no legal validity.
On Law, Morality and Politics, Saint Thomas Aquinas seeks to address the heart of the debate by presenting the following question: are Christians obliged to obey secular authorities? To give a fair account of the matter, Saint Thomas Aquinas argues for both sides of the question by presenting objections and replies to the same objections. By reflecting on biblical passages such as Mt. 17:26, Jn. 1:12, and Rom 7:4, Saint Thomas Aquinas argues that Christians are not obliged to obey secular authorities since Divine law trumps human’s laws. For instance, Saint Thomas Aquinas points to Romans 7:4 which states that, “the body of Christ made you death to the law.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas explains:
The text is speaking about the divine law of the Old Testament. But human law, which subjects human beings to secular authorities, is a lesser law than the divine law of the Old Testament. Therefore, much more are human beings, by being constituted members of the body of Christ, freed from the law of subjection that binds them to secular rulers. (184)
Saint Thomas Aquinas also states that when secular rulers abuse their power through the exercise of unjust actions, Christians do not have to obey them nor the laws that have been enacted through an unjustly usurped power. Yet, by reflecting on biblical passages such as Tim. 3:1, Tim. 6:1, 1 Pet. 2:13-4, Rom. 3:22, and Rom. 7:25, Saint Thomas Aquinas claims that Divine law also obliges Christians to obey other human beings. For instance, Saint Thomas Aquinas states that, “faith in Christ does not excuse the faithful from being obliged to obey secular rulers” (185). Even though Saint Thomas Aquinas states that Christians are obliged to obey civil authorities, Saint Thomas Aquinas claims that Christians ought to disobey their laws in the absence of justice. Saint Thomas Aquinas follows Saint Augustine’s view on the absence of justice written in The City of God where Saint Augustine states that, “human beings are not obliged to obey robbers, who use force against them” (On Law, Morality and Politics pp. 185). Saint Thomas Aquinas not only claims that civil authorities are subject to a Superior law, but that governments ought to remember their moral responsibility to others.
There is no question that the deeper political reality of the United States presents a clear threat to Christian moral values. The United States with its cultureless or lightly cultural values and moral relativism continue to build false notions of individuality and moral autonomy. Lisa Wade makes helpful distinctions in The Politics of Acculturation (2011) regarding those who are cultureless or only lightly cultural. Quoting Anne Phillips regarding multiculturalism Wade states:
Much of the agonizing about whether “we” (presumably enlightened secular liberals) should accommodate “their” cultural practices and traditions is premised on a distinction between modern and traditional, in which the moderns wear their culture so lightly that they can readily set it aside as the law or morality requires . . . (521).
Yet, such cultural and political phenomenon neglect both the moral and spiritual truths of humanity. Further, such phenomenon welcomes the increase of political intolerance against traditional Christian moral values. Moreover, it pushes Christian moral values aside and into those corners where obedience to unjust laws is forced onto Christians. In effect, the conflict between Christians and civil authorities continue to increase, leading to the creation of a hostile and polarized environment. However, it is important to recognize that this conflict is the result of a continuous insistence from civil authorities to deny Christians the ability to profess their faith freely and openly. Thus, if the laws violate the moral order, fundamental human rights, or the teachings of the Gospel, Christians may conscientiously object to them.
The new waves of attacks on Christian moral values is leading to a hostile, dangerous, and serious environment. According to a report issued last year by the First Liberty Institute titled, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America” close to 1,300 cases were reported early in 2016 from florists targeted, bakers punished, nuns coerced and even retail companies facing discrimination for their faith (Attacks on Christians in U.S. Double in 3 Years). Alexia Palma, a young Catholic immigrant from Guatemala was inspired by her faith to serve others. She taught many classes on chronic health issues and a class on “Becoming a Mom” at Legacy Community Health, a Houston inner city clinic. When Miss Palma began her job at LCH, she asked her supervisor for a religious accommodation to show a video instead of teaching a class on contraception. This method worked well for approximately 18 months until new management came in and asked her to put aside her religious beliefs. As a devoted Catholic, Miss Palma refused to teach on the use of contraceptive methods. Even though Miss Palma’s performance was excellent in all other areas, LCH persuaded Miss Palma to violate her faith or be fired. In a video published at the First Liberty Institute website, Miss Palma shares her personal story:
I was born in Guatemala and I came to the United States when I was 5 years old. From there, my life change completely in the sense that I never had a stable home. But there was always one place I called my stable home and that was the Church. And no matter where I go I feel that is my home and the truly home I’ll ever have.
Upon Miss Palma’s refusal to teach the class on contraception, the new management fired her. However, Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, states that, “The Supreme Court has already ruled on this – a company can’t fire a person just because the person needs a simple religious accommodation, especially when it can be provided with no hardship to the company” (First Liberty Institute, Alexia Palma Case). First Liberty Institute and Miss Palma sued LCH and won the case on religious discrimination grounds.
Throughout history, Christians and non-Christians have influenced public policy to address unjust issues such as the abolition of slavery, segregation laws, and universal literacy among other social injustices. Therefore, for Christians civil disobedience in defense of human rights is obedience to God. Given that every human being derives from the law of nature, deflecting from the law is no longer a perversion of the law. Thus, civil disobedience to unjust laws is not disobedience to the law, rather is a form of defense of respect for the law.
Saint Thomas Aquinas states in the Summa Theologiae:
An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
Moreover, Christians and non-Christians have appealed to civil disobedience when faced with unjust laws. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi led the resistance movement against the struggles of unjust laws and eventually achieved India’s independence through peaceful disobedience.
An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. Now the law of nonviolence says that violence should be resisted not by counter-violence but nonviolence. This I do by breaking the law and by peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment.
Here, Gandhi gives us a clear example that it is both our duty and right to disobey unjust laws. Per Gandhi, the personal and conscious confrontation with an unjust law gives the citizen the right to civilly disobey them. Gandhi echoed Henry David Thoreau’s views on unjust laws.
Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? (540)
Therefore, Christians conceive law to be rooted in both morality and in a higher conscience as a higher law. Since unjust laws are out of harmony with natural moral law, Christians’ civil disobedience against unjust laws is justified.
Martin Luther King Jr. was also well familiar with unjust laws within our legal system. For instance, King argues that there are two types of laws: just and unjust laws. While he calls for full obedience to the law, he also states that it is not only our moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws but a legal right to stand against unjust laws that are in clear contradiction with natural moral law. In his famous letter to Alabama’s clergyman which he wrote from Birmingham Jail, King addresses the worries of the clergyman by proving a philosophical answer to the following question: how can it be moral to obey some laws and break others? Troubled by the physical and emotional pain of victims of racial discrimination, King justifies his participation in civil disobedience by claiming that the civil authorities who suppress their citizens while violating their dignity is against natural law or Divine law. King adds value to his claims of civil disobedience by relying on Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, and Saint Thomas Aquinas’ moral philosophies while claiming that laws that support racism are unjust laws and eventually evil acts. Therefore, King argues that segregation laws are unjust because they distort the soul and damage the personality.
King further argues that unjust laws are in clear contradiction to Divine law since they undermine the dignity and nature of the human person which is created in the image and likeness of God. King echoes Saint Augustine by stating that unjust laws are not laws at all because they often lack virtue by being rooted in eternal law or natural law. Similarly, King states that, “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (UNESCO 150). Therefore, King argues that direct action against unjust laws is needed. King echoes Saint Thomas Aquinas by claiming that disobedience to unjust laws is both a social duty and a noble defense of the rights that Divine law give us. Hence, our founding fathers and noble statesmen indirectly wrote their very own claims against unjust laws. For instance, Abraham Lincoln rightly claims that, “this nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” While Thomas Jefferson also states that, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” And Benjamin Franklin purports that, “disobedience to tyrants is Obedience to God.” Thus, when unjust laws contradict society’s moral values, Christians have the moral and legal responsibility to lose their respect for the law.
Scripture states that God established civil authorities as His ministers on earth to exercise justice. However, God also established a hierarchy in which both the people and their rulers were to obey the Lord. The first Book of Samuel tell us about the insistence of God’s people to have a king like other nations. Although God granted them their request, He warned them of the consequences of disobedience to Divine law (1 Sm 12:12b-15). Further, Scripture also teaches that those who obey the Commandments, the Lord Himself gives them prosperity. On the contrary, those who disobey the Lord are set for a catastrophe (Deuteronomy 28). This explains why the Prophets were always instructing the kings, other authorities, and the people to be faithful to God’s Covenant. In effect, Christians have a moral obligation to be the light and salt of this world, instruct their civil authorities, and stand against unjust laws that are in clear contradiction with Divine law. God gave civil authorities the mission to do justice, reaffirm the Covenant, promote peace, defend life, and provide for the powerless such as the poor and the widow. However, much has changed since then. Given that many civil authorities continue to violate Christian moral values, civil disobedience to the state seems to be the last resort available for Christians. For instance, when Kentucky Clerk, Kim Davies refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, she was accused of breaking the law. Yet, Davies’ actions resemble the courage of many biblical heroes along with contemporary modern figures such Gandhi and King who refused to participate in actions that clearly contradict their natural moral values. Thoreau, Gandhi, and King are also clear examples that when government systems become unjust, we have no moral obligation to obey their unjust laws. In particular, Gandhi and King also express their courage and honor to the law by accepting the penalties that accompanied their violations. The criminalization of Christians through unjust laws calls for the revival of the resistance movement through peaceful civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience has always been part of the story of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Scripture tells us about the stories of the midwives who disobeyed the Pharaoh while protecting the male children of the Hebrews (Exodus 1:15-22). Prophet Jeremiah was also another faithful servant of the Lord who defied the Jewish officials when they refused to listen to God’s message (Jeremiah 38:1-6). In effect, Christians ought to always remember that it is their moral duty and legal right to stand against evil wherever it is encountered, even if they must pay the price for their obedience to Divine law. There is no question that society’s individualism, moral relativism, and unjust laws have become more aggressive against Christian moral values. However, when God is removed from civic life, there is nothing left to mediate between the ambition of individuals. Therefore, civil laws must be backed by natural moral values to provide an ordering to society with liberty, dignity, and justice for all. When civil authorities scare Christians into keeping their beliefs salient and in private, Christians’ liberty, dignity, and justice are violated. What should Christians do when the law fails to protect them? Civil laws give our cultureless and secular society a right to disagree with Christians on morality, but why should Christians face the law when they disagree with them? Is that not what the First Amendment seeks to stand for? For these reasons, Christians ought to remember that the history of Christianity is filled with stories of biblical heroes and saints who stoop up against unjust laws. Thus, civil disobedience seems to fit the bill when civil authorities enact laws that clearly jeopardized Christian’s most fundamental moral values.
Most civil authorities lack a deep and clear understanding of human dignity and nature. Therefore, Christians can help them to balance the disorders of this world. With God’s grace, Christians are encouraged to navigate difficult conversations through a close reflection on the meaning of love, justice, and righteousness of God’s kingdom. Christians do not force their morals into society, rather, they are advocates of justice, respect for life, and support for the powerless. Additionally, when morality and laws are marginalized, Christians uphold Divine justice. Christians not only address moral issues, they also measure public actions through moral standards of justice and righteousness while holding civil authorities accountable for their actions. Therefore, Christians play a crucial role in politics since their moral standards reflect what it means to be a good citizen. Even though Scripture encourages Christians to do good to others and to submit themselves to civil authorities, Scripture also encourages Christians to serve as counsels to civil authorities to uphold Divine law. For instance, Scripture states that Prophet Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, “therefore, o King, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:27). Other biblical heroes such as Saint John the Baptist gave us an example of when to call out our civil authorities whenever they have committed immoral acts. For instance, Saint John the Baptist became a martyr since he confronted Herod for taking Herodias, wife of his brother Philip (Matthew 14: 3-12). Although Christians’ obedience to civil authorities became part of their obedience to God, Christians Supreme authority is God. Therefore, when civil authorities enact unjust laws or engage in immoral actions, Christians’ loyalty to the Gospel must prevail.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a strong stand against unjust laws. The USCCB stated in a document titled “Cherish Liberty” that, “if we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage to not obey them” (John 2012). Similarly, the USCCB also states that citizens have a moral and legal right to decide based on their faith. More importantly, Catholic moral teaching also states that it is never acceptable to obey unjust laws. For these reasons, unjust laws that authorize the immoral practices of both abortion and euthanasia should never be obeyed.
Saint John Paul II wrote:
Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the life to right, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.
Even though Christians do not desire a call for civil disobedience, both the law and faith requires to stand against unjust laws. Given that both abortion and euthanasia are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize, Christians in good conscience can disobey such unjust laws. Once again, Scripture highlights the right to defend innocent life with the story of the courageous midwives who refused to follow the orders of the Pharaoh who ordered them to kill all the newborn males of the Hebrews. The midwives feared God, thus, their obedience to a Higher authority gave them the strength and the courage to resist such unjust laws. Scripture also states that it is the courage of those who are prepared to be imprisoned and killed that makes the endurance and faith of the saints (Rev 13:10). Sadly, many of the most controversial unjust laws in the United States are forcing insurance companies serving church-run facilities to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion. Similarly, these laws are also shutting down some Catholic adoption and foster care programs whenever such facilities refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Additionally, these laws force Christians to do business with clients whose beliefs differ from their own greatly. Even though these laws ensure that members of one group are treated fairly and with respect, they lack natural moral basis since they fail to take into consideration the dignity and nature of the human person. Thus, Christians ought to follow the example of many biblical heroes who resisted civil authorities when the laws were in clear contradiction with the will of God.
Moreover, The Compendium of the Catholic Church states:
Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to the teachings of the Gospel. Unjust laws pose dramatic problems of conscience for morally upright people: when they are called to cooperate in morally evil acts they must refuse. Besides being a moral duty, such a refusal is also a basic human right which, precisely as such, civil law itself is obliged to recognize and protect. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane (399).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states:
Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility: A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. (1902)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church further claims:
When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the law of the Gospel. (2242)
Contemporary secularism finds its roots in the absence of true respect for the human person. Yet, revealed truth teaches us what it means to be human. Since life is given by God, society nor civil authorities can interfere with the natural process of death. In effect, no human being or law can grant a right to take the life of an innocent person, even when that person requests it. The Judeo-Christian tradition states that human beings pose an intrinsic value because each one is created in the image and likeness of God. Given that proponents of euthanasia lack a clear understanding of the worth and dignity of these individuals, their judgement is completely irrelevant according Christian moral values. Regardless of the state of the patients, their intrinsic value remains the same for being who they are: Homo Sapiens. Therefore, it is immoral for civil authorities and society to treat these individuals as worthless beings whose only option is death. In effect, both euthanasia and abortion are grave violations of the Divine law since they deliberately accept the killing of another person. Thus, unjust laws that permit and support the legalization of euthanasia and abortion are intrinsically unjust laws. Proponents of both euthanasia and abortion not only deny their truth fundamental relationship with God, they also fail to recognize that life is a gift in which God shares Himself with His creatures. The Catholic Church also states that, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already” (Catholic Teaching and the Law Concerning the New Reproductive Technologies, 200). Since many civil authorities have consciousness so twisted and confused that they cannot recognize the dignity and nature of the human person, Christians are not obliged to obey them.
Those who promote unjust laws violate their moral responsibility to others by trying to benefit a few at the emotional, psychological, and economical expense of others. Laws that support the immoral practices of abortion and euthanasia become an emotional, psychological, and physical burden to those involved in these very unfortunate situations. Furthermore, most of the claims supporting the legalization of both abortion and euthanasia strongly support discrimination against Christians. Thus, both abortion and euthanasia are wrong because they begin to commodify the value of the person based on emotions rather than for being who she/he is: Homo Sapiens. These immoral practices are a threat to society since they lack empathy in defense of those most vulnerable and because they support the devaluation of humanity. Therefore, it is morally wrong for Christians to submit to unjust laws simply because of civil authorities’ desires who have not fully understood the grave consequences of such evil acts. This type of behavior clearly goes against Christian moral values.
Furthermore, advocates of unjust laws violate their moral responsibility to others by ignoring the motivations underlying these immoral practices. For this reason, Jason Evert states that based on Saint John Paul II views of the matter, “people do not exist for the good of the state. Rather, the state should exist in order to serve the people. This wasn’t about making the government more religious, but about making it more worthy of the human person” (33). Saint John Paul II asks, “all these things, which are meant to liberate woman: premarital sex, contraception and abortion, have they liberated her or have they enslaved her?” (Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves, 109). Civil authorities are failing to recognize that a strong preference against Christians’ values is leading to the discrimination, rejection, and killing of Christians. Thus, Christians have both a moral and legal obligation to claim that our laws should not provide people with the means to fulfill such evil desires. Furthermore, it seems that the enactment of these laws is pushing society to become less tolerant of Christian moral values. Therefore, this type of behavior should not be tolerated since it has the potential to reinforce cultural stereotypes and perpetuate even more discrimination against members of one religious group.
Moreover, unjust laws jeopardize the virtue of justice and the concept of morality which is granted to humanity through natural law. Alasdair MacIntyre is among those moral philosophers who claims that no one is completely certain about morality. More importantly, MacIntyre claims in After Virtue (1981) that there seems to be no rational way of securing moral agreements. MacIntyre states that the concepts of morality that we use have changed drastically and such changes have led us from a state of order to a state of disorder, creating much confusion and inconsistency in the discussion of morality. Additionally, MacIntyre claims that morality has been manipulated to serve the type of use of individuals’ preferences. For these reasons, MacIntyre not only claims that our morality today is in a state of disorder, but that the laws too have been manipulated to serve individuals’ preferences. Legal and moral philosophers, Ronald Dworkin and John Rawls seem to agree with MacIntyre on this notion.
It is patent that judges’ own views about political morality influence their constitutional decisions, and though they might easily explain that influence by insisting that the Constitution demands a moral reading, they never do. Instead, against all evidence, they deny the influence and try to explain their decisions in other-embarrassingly unsatisfactory-ways. (2)
Therefore, Rawls claims:
In constitutional government the ultimate power cannot be left to the legislature or even to the Supreme Court, which is only the highest judicial interpreter of the constitution. Ultimate power is held by the three branches in a duty specified relation with one another with each responsible for the people. (109)
Even though MacIntyre, Dworkin, and Rawls views on the current state of morality and manipulation of laws seem to be accurate, the moral values of Christians allow them to know what is just and what is unjust. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor….The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (1807).
Unjust laws undermine society’s rational principles and religious moral values. Therefore, the dignity of humanity should not be sacrificed for the selfish desire of civil authorities to maintain their political office. Unjust laws are morally wrong because they treat human beings as means to someone’s ends while ignoring that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. Since human beings are not objects, civil authorities do not have a right to violate humans’ dignity and nature. Moreover, it is evil and against our moral principles for civil authorities to deny Christians the right to practice their faith openly and freely. More importantly, no human person is subject to ownership by civil authorities; thus, Christians have both a moral and legal obligation to disobey laws that are in clear contradiction to God’s plan for humanity. Even though civil authorities claim that the power of the law is in their hands, their desire to control Christians is completely irrational. Given that it is the moral and legal responsibility of Christians to protect the dignity of humanity, Christians must continue to resist unjust laws whenever they encounter them. Americans who argue that Christians ought to always obey civil authorities as a direct command from Scripture, fail to acknowledge that even the founding fathers rose in rebellion against their rulers. Finally, those who claim that Scripture, through the words of Saint Paul, puts down civil disobedience, fail to understand the instructions written in the Bible. For these reasons, Christians are not always obliged to obey their civil authorities.
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