Only recently have I heard that Martin Luther King Jr. day is supposed to be a day of service. So I quickly tried to find out why. I did some googling, but I’m still not sure. However, I did learn that it was signed into law (yes, you read that right) in 1994 by Bill Clinton. So I guess it is the law for the federal government to encourage us to have a day of service instead of a day off?
I guess that sounds like a nice idea. Doing some kind of service for someone is usually a good thing. But I think that if we really want to honor Martin Luther King Jr. we would all read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and we should all do some kind of nonviolent, civil disobedience.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
– MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
I realize I am posting this at the end of the day so it is probably too late for civil disobedience today. But luckily we can honor his memory year round! If we all ignored unjust laws, there would be no way for the state to enforce them. When judging your actions, instead of asking if what you did was legal, ask if it was morally permissible and decide if it harmed anyone else.