When Laws are Unjust

Sometimes, laws are unjust.

Unjust laws in this country allowing racial discrimination were part of the reason for the Civil Rights movement. With the laws in the nation and in many states in place, African-Americans could not feel protected by the laws, because the laws helped perpetuate their status and injustice perpetrated against them. African-Americans had no voice, “the law” notwithstanding.

In Ireland, it is women whose voices are not being heard. In that Catholic country, laws are on the books which prohibit abortion. Because of those laws, a young woman died after being denied an abortion. Her death has sparked outrage and protest by women, who rallied in front of the Irish parliament this week. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/11/15/thousands-rally-outside-irish-parliament-after-woman-repeatedly-denied-abortion-before-dying/)

We depend on our lawmakers to craft laws that protect the people, but in fact there are far too many laws on the books which do not protect but rather support discriminatory or harmful and unjust treatment of certain groups. Women in the United States and in fact all over the world have had to fight unjust laws so that they could enjoy full citizenship which included the right to vote, and still have to fight for equal pay for equal work. And …what women and cannot do with their own bodies is still an issue which divides the nation politically and religiously.

Women in Ireland are fighting for the right to live with dignity. Young Savita Halappanavar, 31, died because in spite of excruciating pain and several requests for doctors to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, they would not. It would be abortion because in spite of her pain, the fetus still had a heartbeat. After three days the young woman died, reportedly from septicemia.

It seems, on this side of the pond, that the laws in Ireland which would allow an otherwise healthy woman to die from a complicated pregnancy, are just wrong and unjust. They are just as wrong and unjust as were American laws which forbade black people to learn to read and write, or which prevented them, and women, from voting.

If individuals are silent in the face of unjust laws, they in essence voice their approval of those laws. That’s a lesson Dr. King drove home as people trained to be non-violent protestors. An unjust law, King said, needs to be broken, or at least challenged. Just because something is a “law” does not mean it is right or fair; some laws beg to be challenged, changed, or struck down.

People historically have challenged laws with which they did not agree. When Brown vs. Board of Education made it against the law for schools to be segregated, many cities and states balked; they thought the law was unjust and did all they could to disobey it, in spite of the law’s directive that schools should be integrated “with all deliberate speed.”  Some schools were closed rather than obey the desegregation order. Other schools took as long as 10 years to begin desegregating.

Anything worth having, including justice, is worth fighting for; and many issues of justice must be fought for. Thousands of women in Ireland are protesting the death of the young mother, and another rally is planned for the weekend. That’s a good thing.

Power concedes nothing without a demand, noted Frederick Douglass.

Douglass was right.

A candid observation …

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