The Rule of Law in America: Is it time for civil disobedience?

One of the principles of a free society is the rule of law.  A nation is to be ruled by law and not men standing above the law. Even the king or the emperor is to be under the law. However, a secondary principle to the rule of law is that of civil disobedience.

As many of my friends know, I have been involved in civil disobedience in the past and have been arrested three times, in the context of the early days of the pro-life movement.

Last week, the Obama administration issued an executive order requiring health insurance companies to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives (with no co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs) in every policy they write. Apparently, under the new comprehensive health care legislation passed two years ago, even Christian organizations are required to carry such policies or face stiff financial penalties if they refuse.

This is an alarming infringement on one of our nation’s greatest principles and legacies—religious liberty. This executive order comes not through open debate and collective decision-making in the House and Senate, but by fiat from the Executive Office. As such, it is a demonstration of raw political power over and against the deeply held religious convictions of millions. If you are not yet familiar with the executive order, I encourage you to read this letter, penned by our Phoenix-area Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmstead.

The Manhattan Declaration is a call of Christian conscience.  If you have not visited this site, I recommend you do so now.  And if you are a United States citizen, I encourage you to sign The Manhattan Declaration.

Today the people of The Manhattan Declaration are calling for American citizens to take action to defend religious liberty in the United States. You will find a petition to President Obama here. Please consider signing this petition today.

In my latest book, Emancipating the World: A Christian Response To Militant Islam and Fundamentalist Atheism (YWAM Publishing, due out in May), I have written on the rule of law and civil disobedience. Take a few minutes to read this argument for Christians being both the most law abiding citizens and also those most prepared to resist unjust laws. Here is a brief summary:

Citizens are to abide by the civil law,[1] but God’s universal moral law (exhibited in the Ten Commandments) is higher. If the state calls us to violate God’s law, resistance (civil disobedience) is not only allowed but required.[2] The United States was born out of civil disobedience. …

The laws of nature and nature’s God justified the ultimate civil disobedience: the Declaration of Independence of the United States: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Benjamin Franklin proposed emblazoning the seal of the new country with the words “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”[3]

From a Birmingham jail, Baptist pastor and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), wrote one of the clearest rationales for civil disobedience: “One may well ask, how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? [The answer] is found in the fact that there are two kinds of laws: . . . just . . . and unjust laws. . . . One has not only a legal but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”[4]

Free and just societies are founded on the rule of law. It is a moral responsibility for free men and women to obey just laws and equally incumbent upon them to disobey, and pay the consequences, unjust laws that call citizens to violate God’s moral laws.

-          Darrow Miller


[1] Rom. 13:1–7.

[2] Acts 5:25–29: Peter argues before the Sanhedrin that we are to serve God rather than people. Acts 17:6–9: Christians defy Caesar’s decree by saying Jesus is a king. Acts 17:11: Desire for truth leads to the questioning of religious authorities. Acts 19:23–40: Paul’s preaching has an economic impact on Ephesian artisans, which leads to civil unrest.

[3] Roy Moore and John Perry, So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny and the Battle for the Religious Freedom (Los Angeles: WorldNetDaily, 2005), 208.

[4] Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/mlkbirm.htm; emphasis added.