17. Are You Allowed to Say “No” to People in Power?

Sometimes people in power make laws that we don’t agree with, sometimes they even make laws that go against the Constitution. What happens when we disagree with lawmakers and is it ever okay to disobey these laws?


Rule of Law: the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.




Here is the transcript of our conversation: 


Brittany: Hey Connor, how are you doing?

Connor: I’m well, yourself?

Brittany: Wonderful. Thank you. So I’ve been noticing something. So sometimes people empower, make laws that we don’t agree with or they’ll pass, you know, the statutes or laws that we don’t agree with. So if I don’t agree with that law, do I have to obey it? Or is there a way that I can kind of say, no, I don’t want this law the way it is, and maybe make some change? What do you think?

Connor: Well, let me, rather than sharing what I think, maybe let me throw it back at you this way, Brit. Okay. Let’s let, I take the position of someone kind the average voter or, or someone who might disagree with where you and I are gonna take this. So the pushback to that would be, well, we are a society of, of law and order. We live by the rule of law. And so we’re supposed to do what, what we’re told otherwise, you know, why have a government at all? So everyone has to do what they’re told, period. End of story. And if you don’t like the law, then you just need to go figure out how to change law. But until then you need to follow the law without question or, without disobeying it. So how do you respond to that type of argument?

Brittany: Well, you brought up one of my favorite terms and that’s a rule of law. And I think that’s a really important one to talk about here because rule of law doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to listen to a politician or a lawmaker. It means we have to listen to the constitution. We have to listen to, what we’ve talked about enumerated powers board. There are certain things, that Congress and politicians can do. And there are a lot of things they can’t do. So if there is a law that actually goes against the constitution, that is not constitutional. We have every right as citizens to say this isn’t okay. Now that doesn’t mean it’s gonna change right away. Right. That doesn’t mean the government suddenly be like, you know what? We are wrong. Let’s take this away. But, we have the right as citizens to say, no, this is not constitutional.

Connor: Now let me ask a follow-up question though. In a past episode, we talked about nullification. Or when we talked about how the states and the federal government have like different powers and sometimes they, they clash and they fight. And in that instance, it was stated standing up and saying, you know, you’re, you’re passing this unconstitutional law. We don’t think you should. And so we’re not going to enforce it or we’re not gonna follow it. But in my mind, what we’re talking about today is a little different where it’s not the states that we’re talking about, it’s individuals. So it’s an individual who is being told that you have to follow a law and you feel maybe it’s unconstitutional, maybe it’s immoral. It’s, something you feel very passionate and strongly about. That is just wrong. And it’s a problem. And so that is, that has a term for it. When states do it, it’s kind of called nullification when individuals do it, it’s typically called civil disobedience.

Brittany: Ah, but disobedience, that’s a bad thing,

Connor: Right? It is totally a bad thing. And yet, you know, there’s in my mind, there’s proper authority and there’s, you know wrong authority. So like, if your parents are asking you to do something, your parents have proper authority over you. Right. That’s kind of like a moral almost type of government in the, like a family government. Right. And so they have true authority by virtue of the fact that they gave birth to you, right? I’m sorry. All the kids listening out there, this doesn’t mean you can all, you know, go on anarchy and be crazy.

Brittany: Sorry

Connor: Yeah. So, civil disobedience refers to the government, not a family or something like that. And it’s when the government is using powers that it shouldn’t, or when it’s trying to boss people around or make them do things that they shouldn’t. So it’s, civil disobedience too. That’s not to say that it’s okay to like, go build a bomb and, you know, blow up the government building because you disagree. Civil disobedience kind of has a different twist where it’s, it’s like peaceful disobedience. Right. So let’s maybe kind of get into some examples. One of the most famous ones is Mahatma Gandhi, right? When he was protesting the British government and their rule of India, and he was leading these peaceful rallies of people who were just not complying with, you know, what Britain was wanting to do. That’s a very famous example, Martin Luther King.

Brittany: Let’s say we had that same thing with the civil rights movement

Connor: Here in America.

Brittany: Talk about that one. Well, I, think of, you know, Rosa Parks, even, you know, day black people had to sit at the back of the bus and she didn’t want to, and, I love, I love her line. She said I was tired. I didn’t want to sit in the back of the bus. Yeah. And that always got with there doesn’t need to be this big grand reason. She knew that what they were asking her to do was wrong and she didn’t wanna do it. And so She didn’t.

Connor: And so civil disobedience in her case, she wasn’t beating up the bus driver.

Brittany: No, she wasn’t hurting anybody.

Connor: She wasn’t hurting anyone. She was just doing what she felt was right. Even if someone disagreed, she wasn’t being aggressive about it. She wasn’t hurting. I even think about maybe a controversial example of Edward Snowden.

Brittany: Oh It was, yes. In fact, yes,

Connor: It was wrong for him. Rather. I would say it was against the law for him to leak all this information about what the government was doing. That they’re spying on us and so forth. So for those who don’t know the story, he leaked to the media, all these documents showing that the government is spying on us and not just the American government, but governments around the world. Yeah. And, so the government, like he’s still, I think in Russia, right? Basically hiding and living alone because if he came to America, the government would throw him in prison because they think what he did was wrong, but he did it and he didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t go out and, and do anything crazy. But, he did it because he felt that what the government was doing was wrong. Yeah. And that people needed to know about it. And so I, consider that an act of civil disobedience where you know, where, he decided to, do this action and suffer the consequence that’s another thing with civil.

Brittany: I was gonna say, cuz there are still consequences. Aren’t there? And he’s living in Russia right now. Yeah.

Connor: Right. And so you need to be willing to adopt the consequences and, go through that. And that shows why I think that’s important is these people doing it are trying to show that what they’re doing is wrong and that when people are when the government is trying to impose those consequences on them, that that is immoral when Rosa parks are being shoved around. And pushed to the back, it clearly shows other people that she’s not only willing to suffer the consequences but that those consequences are wrong. And it encourages other people to change their minds and realize, wait a minute, this is wrong. We should change this law. This is bad. And so by suffering the consequences, it’s almost like an educational opportunity to help other people see the injustice or the wrongness of what the government is doing. Let’s talk about maybe another example or two.

Brittany: Yeah. We saw a lot of this recently with the quarantine, everything was shut down, but we saw business owners who refused to shut down and they weren’t refusing to shut down just because, just because a lot of them were refusing to shut down because they lost their income. This was, you know, the government was asking them to close their businesses for two or three months, sometimes indefinitely and just good luck, you know, maybe apply for unemployment or, or whatever it is you can do. But it was very hard for these people. And so if there were gyms that were opening up anyway there were a lot of barber shops and salons that were staying open. But what was crazy about this is here. You have people just cutting each other’s hair. There was a woman in Dallas. She kept her salon open because she said, I need to feed my children.

And she spent, I think it was two nights in jail. She was taken away in handcuffs and put in jail because she wanted to earn money. She wanted to keep her children fed. And so that’s something where you have to look at that and say, this isn’t right. You know, I know that this is what they’re telling us to do. And, and we talked about this in another episode, maybe they’re using fear to convince us that we need to abide by this law, but, maybe that’s not the right thing to do. And like you said, sometimes that means taking risks. That doesn’t mean you won’t go to jail or, spend a, you know, spend a night behind bars, but you do it because it is right. And that outweighs everything else.

Connor: A, lot of people who listen to this podcast are religious and I’m gonna share a story that has a religious connection, but it doesn’t matter if you are or are not. This is the guy after whom the state of Pennsylvania was named William Penn. And William Penn became a Quaker, which is, a certain type of Christian religion. And he lived in England.

Brittany: They’re Very, very peaceful people too, aren’t they?

Connor: Yes. So they’re kind of pacifists. In other words, they, try and be peaceful with everyone. And so this particular religion was not really allowed in England because they had an official church official, basically a government church. And it was the official religion of England, and the laws prohibited gatherings or assemblies. We talked in a past episode about the first amendment and the right of, the assembly of people to be able to gather together and talk about whatever they wanted. And it was in part because like England was preventing people from gathering together to worship or to practice a religion in a way that was not allowed by the church of England. So this guy, William Penn was a little bit of an RL Raser, and he intentionally broke that law. And I think if I’m recalling correctly, it was called the ventral act. And, it prohibited people. I believe it was more than five people gathering. And so he literally went on the steps of one of the churches, the official English churches, and brought a gathering with him and started preaching his Quaker faith.

Brittany: Oh Wow. That’s a bold move.

Connor: Bold move. But intentionally saying, I think it’s okay to do what I’m doing. I know I’m breaking the law, let you know whatever you want. You know, come happen to me. And so, you know, he was arrested and went to court and all this kind of stuff. But when he later came to America and started the Pennsylvania colony it was very important to him that freedom of religion be part of their colony. Again, this was before the constitution. This was before the United States of America. He wanted to protect the freedom of religion. So a lot of these people who were being punished and persecuted in England and other European countries fled to America, specifically to Pennsylvania because they wanted the freedom, to practice whatever religion was theirs. But I really like how that shows that civil disobedience, it’s not just people who are trying to break the law, cuz they don’t like it. These are people who often are very moral people. They’re, they’re very sensitive to trying to do the right thing. And when they see the government prohibiting them from doing something or, making them do something that’s wrong, they stand up and say, no.

Brittany: Yeah. I think there was someone you mentioned before we started recordingThoreau, Henry David Thoreau was his name and he spent a night in jail. I believe. He also wrote a book called civil disobedience which is appropriate to this title, but he did not wanna pay taxes, but the reason he didn’t wanna pay taxes was not just because he didn’t wanna pay taxes though. We could have a whole discussion on that. I believe it was war. I don’t think he liked war. And it was that’s where these tax dollars were going to

Connor: It Was the Mexican-American war in particular

Brittany: That’s right. And he thought to himself, you know, I’m against this, I’m more of a pacifist or, or he at least very peaceful. Why do I have to pay, why am I being forced to pay a portion of my income to pay for a war that I don’t support and that I don’t believe in? So he actually ended up spending a night in jail and we talked about this a minute ago. That sometimes that’s what you do, but he’s become, in fact, he’s the whole reason. I even know what civil disobedience is. That’s, you know, he wrote a whole book on it. But it’s times like that when you really have to appreciate people and really admire them for standing up for what’s right. Because I don’t think I would do well in jail, to be honest with you.

Connor: I think that I think the jails a century ago were a little different too than they are today. Right.

Brittany: That’s probably true.

Connor: You would’ve done worse than the jails back then than

Brittany: I would’ve done much worse than that, but it’s crazy to me because I really have admiration for these people. I really look up to them because I think to believe in something that much and to think something is so wrong where, you put yourself on the line like that is really, really admirable.

Connor: I think there’s even a more common example. I think of something that we’ve talked about before, and I’m sure we’ll tell you about many times after, and that is this concept of the lemonade stand. And I think I mentioned in the past episode, how in Utah, we changed the law so that kids now don’t have to get a business license.

Brittany: I think I wrote about that one time. Yeah, yeah.

Connor: Or, a food handler’s permit. They don’t have to get these permission slips. They can just go out. But that was, we were the first state to do it because all around the country, there are these news articles where little kids will go set up a lemonade stand and then a police officer will show up or someone from the city government will show up and they say, oh, you’re not allowed to be doing this. Right. And so in a way, the lemonade stands still in a lot of places cuz these are just natural. They’re spontaneous, right? Kids will be like, Hey, let’s do a lemonade stand. And the mom or the dad is like, Hey, let’s do it. Entrepreneurship is amazing. And they don’t realize that maybe they’re doing it illegally cuz they’re not complying with all these laws, even something silly like that.

Like I know a number of people who live in different states and they’re like, yeah, I know this is a law. I know we’re supposed to do it. I’m not doing it. Cuz I think it’s wrong to make a kid pay 80 bucks just to be able to sell 57 cups eliminate. So even if it in, its own way, even in that silly, you know, kind of little example that is civil disobedience, it’s about doing something that you know is right. Even when the government says it’s wrong and you know, there may be consequences. I remember I’m not sure if we talked about this on an episode, but there’s a gentleman in Florida that he and his wife would serve the homeless. Yeah, for years. And she passed.

Brittany: He’s Hanging on your wall. I think you mentioned he’s One of your heroes.

Connor: Yeah. So my, wall of heroes and so he continued serving the poor. He would raise money and buy food and, the city council passed a law that basically stopped him from doing it the way that he was. And he decided to keep on going, well, what happened? He got arrested, and this nice old man that was actually trying to help the homeless got arrested because he wasn’t, you know, he didn’t stop doing what he was doing. Cuz the law basically told him to stop the way he had been. So he kept doing it. He got arrested. Then when he got arrested, he kept doing it again. And then he got, the police showed up again and by this point, the news showed up. And so I learned about his story, cuz it, it went international. There were newspapers everywhere sharing this story. But again, that was the point. He was willing to accept the consequences because he wanted other people to see this is wrong. And what happened in that case? Well, the city backed down cuz they saw that there were so many people upset with what was happening that they were like, oh, okay, we won’t enforce.

Brittany: So he actually changed things.

Connor: He changed it, which I thought was really admirable. And he was trying to do the right thing. He was just trying to help. So Brittany let’s wrap up here. What is the takeaway? Our listeners we’ve been talking about all these stories. What should people be taking away from this idea of civil disobedience?

Brittany: Yeah. That when you think something is immoral or you think something is wrong, that it’s, it’s okay to say no, but I think one thing we really touched on here is that doesn’t mean there aren’t any consequences, right? That might mean you might, you might spend a night in jail or you might get in trouble. But, the reason you’re doing it is more important. So that’s why you do it.

Connor: And if we care about our rights, if we care about our freedoms, when they’re being restricted wrongly when there’s something we can do about it, I think it is something we need to think about is are we willing to stand up and, and face the consequences and defend our race? Cuz if we’re not, then we’re just gonna keep losing them. And that’s not to say we should all go crazy and do crazy things. Pick your battles, exactly. Pick your battles. We gotta be very smart about this kind of stuff. But sometimes throughout history for some people there have been points at which they say, sorry, I, you know, I can’t take it anymore. Or in Rosa parks, I think, you know, put it perfectly. I’m tired, I’m tired. I’m not gonna let you boss me around anymore. So very something to think of.

Maybe we can link in our show notes for this one, Britney to civil disobedience. And in fact, it’s, it’s more of an essay I would call it. It’s not like a full book. It’s short enough that you guys can read it. Fun for kids to think about. If, if you wanna learn what the kids wanna learn about this. I would say check out my book Lessons from a Lemonade Stand where we talk about things like civil disobedience, but share a lot of examples. So if you’re a teenager or a young adult, that would be a good age for that book. So stick around next time. For the next episode, make sure you’re subscribing until then Brittany. See you later.

Brittany: See you later.

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