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Did Rosa Parks sin by refusing to go to the back of the bus?

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  • There's an interesting possible answer to the original question, which is that Rosa didn't actually violate any law. Most people consider Marbury vs. Madison to be valid law. But it establishes judicial review on the grounds that a law that conflicts with the Constitution isn't a law, and thus the courts can't enforce it. But if unconstitutional laws aren't actually laws, then I would argue that violating them doesn't violate Paul's instructions.

    There are critical differences between the US and ancient Rome. We assume that our government is limited, that citizens have rights, and that there are processes to enforce those rights. That inherently involves our people in the political process in a way that Paul and his readers were not involved. It is part of the duty of a US citizen to protest in ways allowed by our political system when the government overreaches. I believe that this includes not obeying unconstitutional laws. To avoid chaos, there are principles not included in the Constitution, but which most people involved in civil disobedience have followed. That includes an expectation of arrest. (Thus I would not make the same justification of people using violence to protest. Even if the thing they are protesting against isn't a valid law, the violence is still illicit.) As far as I know Rosa followed them. Note that Parks act was planned with the NAACP with the specific intent of creating a test case, which would permit judicial review. Without some case like Rosa's, there would have been no way to get review by the courts. In some sense judicial review assumes that some people will not obey laws of questionable constitutionality. I doubt that Paul was thinking of people who were trying to get violations of the Roman constitution in front of the Supreme Court of the Empire.

    Calvin and others considered how to deal with unjust governments. They weren't in a situation where judicial review would be likely to be useful. Instead, they decided that it was the job of "lesser magistrates" to deal with unjust kings, princes, etc.

    Paul was surely not thinking of situations like the US or 16th Cent Europe, where Christians had power, and thus an authority to make sure it was used properly.
    Last edited by hedrick; 01-05-2015, 04:55 PM.


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