Is it ever justifiable for protesters and activists to break the law for the sake of their cause?Is it ever justifiable for protesters and activists to break the law for the sake of their cause?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that this is going to depend on several conditions.  Obviously, there are many examples of social crusaders needing to break the law in order to achieve justice, or what they perceive as it.  The previous post recognized Gandhi, and I think that adding to it with individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Cesar Chavez or Henry David Thoreau or Eugene Debs would be other examples of individuals who felt that there was a higher cause that needed to be honored as opposed to temporal laws.  Certainly, there are other examples of individuals who felt the need to go against the law in order to achieve their vision of justice.  Those who kill doctors who perform abortions or bomb abortion clinics might be examples of individuals who break the law in order to achieve their own notion of justice.  These individuals might be the opposite of the previous individuals who bring a sense of honor to breaking the existing law in order to achieve justice.  Certainly, the protesters who sparked the "Arab Spring" would be representative of individuals who broke the laws in order to achieve something higher and more transcendent.  I don't think that many would argue that these individuals were wrong in doing what they felt was right.  I suppose that much rests with your understanding of what needs to be changed and the means by which this is achieved.  In the end, I would say that the level of allegiance to one's cause is what compels individuals to break to law for the pursuit of what they see as justice.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I urge you to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," wherein he explains why and when it is necessary for activists to break the law.. He tells the clergyment to whom he writes :


You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Laws that harm an individual's sense of humanity are unjust. In a democracy, people have the absolute right to rise up and protests laws that are harmful.

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that depends greatly on the laws of the country.  Here in the US, we have plenty of ways to express our opinions without breaking the law.  In other countries, unjust laws might have to be broken in order to take a stand.  The law should never be broken if it can be avoided.  In many cases, breaking the law will hinder the cause rather than further it.  Those who chose to break the law, even for justified reasons, must be ready to face the consequences.

megan-bright eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If the laws are unfair and oppressive, then there are certainly many instances where people would be justified in breaking those laws. When Black people began refusing to give up their seats for white people on the bus, they were certainly justified in breaking this inhumane law.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
There are definitely times when breaking the law is necessary. When the law is wrong, it is necessary to break it. However, this does not mean the law should ever be broken lightly. It takes a strong persona commitment to stand up for what you believe in even when society does not.
suribabukomakula | Student

It is definetely not correct to say to break the law by the protesters or activists for the sake of their cause. In a globalist trend, ours is a democratic way of life in every country in the world. One should respect others feelings. Protesters and Activiists, no doubt, has a legitimate right to protest their feelings for the sake of people of the locality, region, country, but it should be done without any harm to others and without breaking the law of the land. Mahatm Gandhi envisaged " Satyagraha" a weapon to protest for any cause. We can adopt democratic and peaceful measures to protest. Physical disturbances, manhandlings, blocking the roads, closing the shops, abstructing the common man's movements etc., are not advisable. Now a days, judiciary also taken a view that the loss occured due to disturbances and other strikes, must be compensated from the Protesters and Activists, who indulge in violence and mass disturbances. Law does not permit any body to break the laws of the land. Law will take its own course of actiion.