In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), Martin Luther King wrote, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.” Here, writing to his fellow white clergymen, King was evoking the fundamental teachings of Christianity to explain the righteousness of his civil disobedience in the face of the unjust practice of racial discrimination. He quotes from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that an unjust law is no law. He cites the Christian theologian Paul Tillich and the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber to condemn racial separation as sin and as a false superiority, relegating the bond between the segregator and segregated to a nonhuman one, and destroying the natural affirmation of the “I-Thou” human relationship. King is drawing on rich traditions in religion and moral philosophy which claims that questions of morality, and of what constitutes good and evil, are codified and find expression in our religious texts and in the western philosophical tradition.
Category: Professional WritingsBy Richard Lettieri
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