Is Civil Disobedience A Moral Responsibility Of A Citizen

In your opinion, is civil disobedience a moral responsibility of a citizen ?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my view, civil disobedience is not always a moral responsibility.  I do not think that a citizen has a responsibility to break laws unless the laws are extremely unjust.  I also do not think that a citizen has a moral responsibility to break a law if, by doing so, they would incur a very severe punishment.  This is particularly true if their civil disobedience would not do any good anyway.  Of course, this is just my opinion and others may hold other opinions.

I do not believe that civil disobedience is warranted if a law is only somewhat unjust.  For example, let us say that I have a daughter in high school and the high school has a dress code that I think is unjust.  I think that it objectifies girls by implying that their bodies are so distracting that boys cannot be expected to study if the girls have (for example) spaghetti strap tank tops on.  In this case, I think that it would be appropriate to protest to the school board or the administration, but not to encourage my daughter to break the dress code.  I do not think that I have a moral obligation to disobey this rule even though I think it is unjust.

Perhaps more importantly, I do not think that citizens have the responsibility to put themselves in grave danger in order to protest an unjust law.  To me, a perfect example of this would be the dilemma a person would find themselves in during the Holocaust.  Let us imagine a train engineer whose job it is to drive the train that brings Jews to Auschwitz.  Let us imagine that this person would be killed or imprisoned for a long time if they refused to transport the Jews.  I do not think the person would have an obligation to give up his or her life for this cause, particularly since the Nazis would simply have found someone else to do it and the Jews would have died anyway.  I think that it is too much to ask a person to give up their life in order to protest an unjust law.

Again, these are just my opinions and there will surely be people who would see things differently.

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