Martin Luther King – On Civil Disobedience
JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
25 MARCH 2012
Excerpt of Transcript of the Sermon “But If Not” by Martin Luther King
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But if not, even if he does not preserve us, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the images of gold you have set up and commanded us to worship.” Daniel 3:16-18
Now I want you to notice first, here, that these young men practiced civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience is the refusal to abide by an order of the government or of the state or even of the court that your conscience tells you is unjust. Civil disobedience is based on a commitment to conscience. In other words, one who practices civil disobedience is obedient to what he considers a higher law.
And there comes a time when a moral man can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And I tell you this morning, my friends, that history has moved on, and great moments have often come forth because there were those individuals, in every age and in every generation, who were willing to say “I will be obedient to a higher law.” These men were saying “I must be disobedient to a king in order to be obedient to the king.”
And those people who so often criticize those of us who come to those moments when we must practice civil disobedience never remember that even right here in America, in order to get free from the oppression and the colonialism of the British Empire, our nation practiced civil disobedience. For what represented civil disobedience more than the Boston Tea Party.
And never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal. It was legal to do everything that Hitler did to the Jews. It was a law in Germany that Hitler issued himself that it was wrong and illegal to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I tell you if I had lived in Hitler’s Germany with my attitude, I would have openly broken that law. I would have practiced civil disobedience.
And so it is important to see that there are times when a man-made law is out of harmony with the moral law of the universe, there are times when human law is out of harmony with eternal and divine laws. And when that happens, you have an obligation to break it.