On the 40th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, assassination, Scott Horton writes at his Harper's No Comment blog that...
Forty-five years ago, the Birmingham News — then as today the powerful voice of an intolerant conservative establishment in Alabama’s largest city—published a letter authored by eight clergymen. The letter, framed in polite and even “Christian” tones attacked and challenged the authority and voice of King. In order to still his powerful voice, Birmingham authorities had arrested King on Good Friday and imprisoned him in the Birmingham City Jail. King’s response, which had to be smuggled out of the jail in installments by his attorneys, was published in the Christian Century, The Atlantic and other publications.
Ask yourself what would happen today if a lawyer smuggled letters out of jail and delivered them to the press. What do you think would happen?
Rereading the "Letter," I remember the frequently quoted parts of it, but didn't remember lines like this:
"An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. . .
There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust...
We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal."
I used to have the Anatole France quote "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread" posted on my wall, but there's no better quote that I know of than the following, also from MLK's Letter:
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.