Civil Disobedience – Right or Obligation?
In our post-Christian world, the laws which underpin our constitution, God’s Laws – the Ten Commandments – have been skewed, watered down, dismantled and even rejected.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of abortion law.
In the West, particularly in Australia and the US, there are anti-Christian laws which uphold the rights of abortion providers, but not of those who would prevent abortion. Laws compel tax-payers to subsidise the killing of countless unborn children. Laws protect pro-choice protesters and have been designed to silence pro-life activists. The media aids these laws by promoting hedonism, and by denigrating morality and Christianity. The natural law is violated and the unnatural law has been codified.
Throughout history, whenever tyrants have attempted to enforce their will on citizens through unjust laws, Christians have searched their consciences and many have been inspired to engage in civil disobedience.
The Church has aways supported prudent civil disobedience, and spells out the criteria for engagement in such activity:
The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”48 “We must obey God rather than men”:49
1. Contrary to the demands of the moral order:
Is it a demand of the moral order that Christians be allowed to pray in the proximity of an abortion provider?
Christians gather outside abortion mills to pray for the babies, for the mothers and fathers, for the doctors, for other occupants of the buildings where children are killed regularly. They pray for the passersby and for themselves. They pray for an end to the humanist ideology that is rife in our country. Their prayer is powerful because it repels the demons that inhabit an abortion mill, and because it requires sacrifice on the part of the pray-er.
Therefore I believe prayer outside an abortion provider answers a demand of the moral order.
2. Contrary to the fundamental rights of persons:
Is it a fundamental right of persons to exercise their religion and to voice their opposition to abortion?
The right to freedom of religion is expressed in the teachings of the Catholic Church (Dignitatis Humanae 6, CCC 1738, CCC 2106-2109), the UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 2) and in the Australian Constitution Section 116.
The right to freedom of speech is contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights articles 19, 20, to which Australia is a signatory, and also in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, article 19. (However, there is no Commonwealth legislation establishing a general right to freedom of expression.) Article 20 of the UNDHR outlines the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which is also found in article 21 of the ICCPR.
Therefore I believe prayer outside an abortion provider is a fundamental human right.
3. Contrary to the teachings of the Gospel
The Gospel message of Jesus Christ contains His Father’s request that we pray without ceasing – for our enemies, for our needs, for human assistance, and from our hearts. Scripture gives many examples of Jesus Himself praying: both alone and with others. He tells us that if we are praying publicly only for attention, then it is better to go to our rooms and pray out of sight. But by giving the example of praying publicly, He shows us that this action is also acceptable to the Father. Indeed, the whole Liturgy, while being the most perfect act of worship, is an act of public prayer.
Therefore, I believe that the right to public prayer is in accordance with the teachings of the Gospels.
Therefore, any law that denies the right to pray in public is an unjust law which Christians have the right to oppose.
There is no question that we have an obligation to defend life and oppose abortion. This is clearly stated in Evangelium Vitae (72, 73). But if we establish the right to oppose an unjust law which is related to abortion, such as the Tasmanian buffer-zone law, does it follow that we also have the obligation to oppose this law?
Here’s what Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life had to say in his article, “When Is It Okay To Disobey?”
Finally, it is clear that civil disobedience is not in any way disrespect for the law, because unjust laws are not bad laws, but no laws at all. Defending human rights in peaceful ways outside “the law” is ultimately a form of defense of and respect for the law. Civil disobedience, in defense of human rights, is actually divine obedience.
Fr. Frank believes so much in the obligation of Christians to engage in civil disobedience that he sent me a personal video to encourage Tasmanians in their efforts to oppose the exclusion-zone law.
More questions could be asked about the future of a society that allows its freedoms to be so readily trampled upon. It is in the nature of tyrants to increase and accelerate their evil actions. A tyrant doesn’t fade away or lose interest in tyranny: unless he experiences some massive, miraculous change of heart, or unless he actually dies, a tyrant will exhaust every avenue available to exert his tyranny and dream up new and more extreme methods in order to achieve his aim.
Our tyrant is paganism. It is not going to give up or fade away. Paganism is here to stay unless we become very serious about defeating this oppressor: through prayer, fasting, public witness, and sometimes, when the occasion warrants it, through civil disobedience.