Episode 26 5 August 2021
Principal lawyer, Geraldine Grace | Host, New Earth lawyer podcast
I discuss the concept of non-violent resistance in the context of disobeying laws, rules and orders. As a lawyer, I adopt the stance of Martin Luther King, Jr that when a person is moved to defy a law they see as unjust, then they must do so openly, lovingly and with preparedness to accept the consequences of their actions. As someone who believes in a loving spiritual force underlying reality, this to me is essential - love conquers all. King's concept of non-violent resistance was inspired by the teachings of Christ and Gandhi.
I am an experienced corporate lawyer, using the law to build purposeful, human-centred, Earth-friendly legal enterprises & ecosystems, for happier humans and a better planet.
I am also the founder and host of the New Earth lawyer podcast.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia, and an expert in enterprise governance, purpose, business & human rights and modern slavery. I established my own law practice Geraldine Grace in 2020, focussing on enterprises seeking purpose, and actors in the impact economy.
I am a legal advisor to not-for-profits with a national reach in impact and purpose. I work with Boards to optimise performance and help enterprises embed purpose and integrate human rights into their business.
I have over 20 years' experience practising law in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and mainland China. I have worked for large global and Australian law firms and was a partner of a top-tier Australian law firm for several years.
I sit on the peak governing body of Australia's largest university.
[0:41] As a lawyer, I get called upon to advise people on what my views are about defying the law. often by decent, law abiding people who feel strongly that these laws are unjust as they infringe upon human rights and natural law.
[2:23] Martin Luther King, Jr. epitomised the right way to engage in civil disobedience, especially in what he said in his letter from a Birmingham jail which he wrote in 1963.
[3:32] Rev. King was talking about segregation laws in the United States but what he said applies equally to other unjust laws.
[5:02] A critical point is that Rev. King was discussing unjust laws. Every individual will have a different perspective of what is unjust, but the more a law, rule or order goes against natural law, the more people will agree it is unjust.
[6:48] We must still respect the law - indiscriminate evasion of the law would create anarchy. It is when one's conscience moves one to disobey an unjust law that Rev. King's principles are relevant. These are that one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
The expression 'all men are created equal' actually appears in the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence.
Equal protection under the law is guaranteed under the 14th amendment of the US Constitution.
The full text of Martin Luther King's 'letter from a Birmingham jail'.
Article on the Rosa Parks incident from The Henry Ford.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the New Earth lawyer podcast. My name is Geraldine Johns-Putra. I'm a lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia, and I'm your host. Today I want to talk about just briefly, something known as non-violent resistance. Why do I want to talk about this? Well, because many people ask me from time to time, what my views are on defying laws.
We live in a funny time and now more than any time that I have ever lived through, people are viewing laws, rules and orders as unjust, and something that they wish to stand up to. So as a lawyer, I do get called upon to advise people on what my views are about this. This actually follows on from what I was talking about last week, which is human rights and natural law. Oftentimes, when people say they want to defy the law, these are decent, generally law abiding people. They're not talking about just breaking the law for the heck of it. They're talking about laws that they view as going against a legitimate right, often a human right, a fundamental human right. And going against natural law, which I described last week as laws that align with morally, ethically just and divine providence. There are ways in which to disobey the law. As a lawyer, I feel it's incumbent on me to stress these. Not just as a lawyer, but as someone who who has deep spiritual beliefs. I feel that defiance of laws, rules and orders needs to be undertaken with a sense of positivity and love.
The person who I think epitomised these qualities in disobedience of the law, the best was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He was in a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, when he wrote a letter, and in it, he said, a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. He went on to say, one has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Now remember that one has a legal and a moral responsibility to obey laws that are just, but conversely, he said, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
Reverend King was talking about segregation laws in the United States. These are known as Jim Crow laws, and they were enacted in the early part of the 20th century in the later part of the 19th century, post Civil War really to reverse the gains that black Americans were making, after the Civil War, economic and social gains. Now these Jim Crow laws are racial or were racial segregation laws, and they segregated black and white communities on public transport, for example, trains and buses, the famous Rosa Parks case occurred on a bus, or in schools or hotels, restaurants and restrooms. These laws relied on a principle known as 'separate but equal', because as we know, in the United States, in the Constitution, it states that all men are created equal. And this principle of 'separate but equal' gave the basis, as questionable as it may be, to enforce these laws or for the State and local legislatures who created them to implement these laws. And the facilities for the blacks were inferior to the facilities for the whites under these racial segregation laws.
Reverend King went on to write, I hope you're able to see the distinction I'm trying to point out, in no sense to advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks the law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law. A few points, I want to emphasise coming from that short passage. Every human being will have a different interpretation based on their personal values, their perspectives on what is an unjust law. However, the more law goes against natural law, which is, as I said, a law that aligns with morality and ethics, the more individuals will come together to agree that it is unjust. And that's what happened in the US in the 1950s and 1960s, as people questioned the segregation laws, and the justice of those laws. Sometimes laws will seem to be just to a sizable number of people. But over time, we begin to see that they were unjust in light of natural law.
Indiscriminate defiance of laws, however, leads to anarchy. If a person chooses to defy laws, unjust laws, there are principles to be adopted based on what Reverend King said. Do so openly is what he said, firstly, so be transparent about it. Don't hide it. Don't do it in secret. You don't have to make a big song or dance about it on social media or wherever you interact with people. But if anyone asks you, be open about your position. Do it lovingly. Martin Luther King also said, we will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you but we will not obey your evil laws. Peace, open heartedness, calmness, serenity, non violence. These are critical. There is no need to scream or shout. And there's absolutely no call for violence. There's no need to even cajole people. If you choose to disobey a law, do it peacefully, with love. And finally do it with a willingness to accept the penalties. Defying the law carries penalties in our society. It may mean arrest, it may mean fines, it may mean prosecution, it may mean incarceration. Reverend King was in jail, put in jail 30 times for his civil rights activism. The higher principle that calls people to stand up to unjust laws, the expression of the highest respect for the law that Martin Luther King was talking about, is actually natural law.
So remember, openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept whatever penalties This is non-violent resistance. This is the concept that Martin Luther King Jr. became famous for. He developed it based on what he read of Gandhi, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther King was a religious man, a spiritual man. As he said, non-violent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win their friendship and understanding. So that's all I have to say about that particular topic. Thank you very much.