THE BLOG
08/13/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2013

Just Laws vs. Unjust Laws

"How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? 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. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

On April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, AL for coordinating nonviolent actions against segregation. In an attempt to stop the civil rights movement in Alabama, Circuit Judge W.A. Jenkins issued a blanket injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing." Dr. King marched anyway, and was arrested.

Four days later, after reading a newspaper article from local clergymen condemning him for hypocrisy in breaking the law, Dr. King wrote the now famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he broke down the difference between a just and unjust law, stating we, as human beings, have "not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Four months later, Dr. King led the March on Washington, delivering the epic "I Have a Dream" speech, calling for equal rights for all human beings of every shape, color, sex, age, size, and belief.

Dr. King's speech echoed in my head fifty years later as I watched President Obama speak at his press conference on NSA monitoring, stating whistleblower Edward Snowden isn't a patriot because he broke the law. With all due respect to POTUS, I disagree. Snowden is more than a patriot; per Dr. King's definition, he's a moral champion.

Freedom of Privacy


"An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal." - MLK

As Dr. King so eloquently points out, the difference between a just and an unjust law is in the equal application of said law. The unjust application he's referencing is the basis of the American Civil Rights Movement -- the white majority was not held to the same standards as non-white minorities. I wish I could say this situation has been resolved, but, as anyone who's heard of Trayvon Martin is painfully aware, that isn't always the case. In the internet age, we not only have to fight a lot of the same racial and gender inequalities as Dr. King, we also have an ever-widening financial equality gap and rampant abuses of power. No matter how complicated things get, however, the measuring stick with which we measure justice has never changed.

Nothing in President Obama's speech gave the impression that the rampant NSA monitoring will stop -- he didn't even touch upon other government agencies using this overreaching digital spying technology on American citizens not involved in terrorism. He merely states that, while no laws will be implemented or changed, American taxpayers' money will be spent on a PR campaign to convince these very same American citizens that it's ok to give up all of our privacy to the government. Obama would have us believe it's ok for the government to know everything about us (the people), while they (the government) operates in the shadows behind an iron curtain of secrecy. Not even a year after all the hoopla surrounding government debt, sequestration, and the debt ceiling, the White House wants to spend our own money on convincing us to be ok with giving up our basic human freedom of privacy. You'll have to forgive the inherent sarcasm in my slow clap...

Middle Fingers for Patriotism


"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was 'illegal.' It was 'illegal' to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers." - MLK

The fallacy in President Obama's logic is saying that breaking the law is what makes Snowden unpatriotic. Apparently, our Commander-in-Chief is under the impression that George Washington obeyed the law when he led an armed revolution on the ruling government of the time. Much like Bradley Manning, terrorist Paul Revere aided and abetted the enemy when he leaked British troop movements to the American patriots. Centuries before Edward Snowden's leak, Benjamin Franklin leaked confidential government letters. Why isn't Snowden's face on our currency?

With Lavabit and Secret Circle shutting down their secure email servers and tech giants Google, Apple, et al, bending to the will of the government and leaking our private and confidential emails to them, we had better figure that out very quickly. Drones are being produced on an almost-Terminator level. More and more power is finding its way into the hands of fewer and fewer people. We're looking down the barrel of a dystopian future within a decade. If we don't start speaking up now, it's only a matter of time before we miss the bus.

I don't know what it's going to take to fix this situation. As much as I'd like to give you the answer -- to tell you what to do -- I can't. I don't know how to convince the powerful people in our world to step off their pedestals and join us. I don't know how to ensure we have the same inherent human freedoms and unalienable human rights as those in power. All I know is I have to take control of my own privacy again.

If the government is going to monitor me without my permission, they're going to see me throwing a middle finger in the air, just like they did earlier this year in Houston. I won't resort to violence, nor will I be complacent in this travesty of justice and equality. I will simply continue living my life the way I want... with my middle finger in the face of every single government agency or representative who isn't vehemently opposed to the mass surveillance without transparency.

I encourage you to stop twiddling your thumbs and join me in giving the government the finger...

Brian Penny is a former business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower and freelance writer. He's a frequent contributor to Mainstreet, Lifehack, and HardcoreDroid and an affiliate of Manduka and Tazo. He documents his experiences working with Anonymous, practicing yoga, and fighting the banks on his blog.