No one wants to get in trouble for breaking the law. But what happens when a law seems so unjust, obeying it feels wrong?
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So, Connor and I just talked on another episode about what makes something evil or better, let me put it in a different way. Is something bad or evil because the government says it is and it passes a law to ban it or is something evil in and of itself? So let’s talk about this real quick and then we’ll get into to this episode. So basically, murder. Is murder wrong because the government has a law that you can’t murder, or is murder wrong because murder is wrong? And what Connor talked about is because of these natural rights that we have, the right to life, liberty, and property, you get that as soon as you’re born, murder is going to be wrong even if there was no government because you can’t take somebody’s life away from them. Same with stealing, right? Yeah. You can’t steal their property. So something is not just because the government says something is wrong and they outlaw it, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a bad thing, right? That just means the government has outlawed it. We talked about prohibition on some episodes before, so I wanna kind of branch off from that or stay on that topic, but expand it a little bit and ask if it’s ever okay to break the law. So, Emma, what do you think?
Emma: I mean, not to get too philosophical, I believe in objective truth. I believe that the truth is the truth. Whether or not, you know, my friends or my neighbors acknowledge it, whether the government acknowledges it, which means that, you know, if the government passes a law that contradicts what I know is true like that murder is wrong, or that taking other people’s stuff is wrong, if the government passes a law, kind of ignoring that fact, I don’t respect that law’s authority, which might sound kind of crazy, but this is sort of the argument that we’ve seen behind, oh my gosh, the word is totally, oh, civil disobedience. I’m like, what is that phrase again? Civil disobedience where people say, this law is wrong. So I’m going to respectfully, peacefully break the law. And that was kind of what we saw end the Jim Crow era, which we’re gonna get into a little bit more, I know here. But, to kind of like summarize. I think that if the government creates a law that contradicts, you know, those basic rules of ethics that we have in common and that we know to be true, and even that our constitution and the Declaration of Independence talk about, that law is not something that we need to necessarily abide by. So that’s kind of a crazy thing to say, but I don’t think laws always need to be followed.
Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I’m glad you brought up civil disobedience, because that is, I think, one of the most important things. I would say that we have a moral duty to not only ourselves, well, no, to ourselves too. To always do what’s right, even if that is what’s breaking the law. And I think that’s what makes heroes. When we hear about all these, tyrannical dictatorships, you know, we hear about World War II and Nazi Germany, and all these terrible things that the heroes were oftentimes the people who broke laws that were unjust bad laws to help people, to save people. So I wanna talk about today some things that some laws that were in US history that I’m, I would be happy, you know, to break. So let’s start with segregation laws. I think that’s the most obvious. That there was a time, you know when you couldn’t use a public drinking fountain. If you were black and you used the white one, then you’d be sent to jail. I don’t know what the fine was. I think you did get sent to jail, and I’m happy to say did not grow up in that era. And you know, if you, not only that, if you married someone who was of the other race then you could go to jail. Or you could be a criminal. So there’s all these things that you have to ask yourself. Would you have abided by those laws? Would you have told somebody who used, you know, the wrong drinking fountain? Would you have been a Karen as we call them? Would you have told, you know, would we have said no? Or would you have said no, I’m gonna, you know, call the police and you’re not doing that? And a lot of times I remember being a kid and thinking this, I would get really mad if someone would break the rules, mainly because it was like, well, that’s not, that’s the rule. That’s just what the rule is. I mean, elementary school, like what’s, there’s so many dumb laws in elementary school. I’m trying to think.
Emma: Oh man, those rules don’t stand out of the line when you’re lined up and like.
Brittany: Yes, don’t stand on a whole name.
Emma: Have to pass if you’re gonna.
Brittany: That’s what gets me.
Emma: Get a drink of water.
Brittany: You have to like to ask to go to the bathroom that you are, that we want you to be well-behaved, but we also don’t trust you to be able to regulate your own bladder. And when you need to go to the bathroom, it’s so silly to me. So it’s kind of like that, like, it’s like, oh, all these silly laws. But imagine it’s not just your teacher doing it, it’s government. So I think segregation, Jim Crow laws, as they were called are some of the most egregious, some of the worst. Emma, did you have some you wanted to share?
Emma: Yeah, I mean there’s so many. One of the big ones that comes to mind for me is the espionage act and sedition act, which made it a crime to make false statements that would hinder the war effort or disturb the manufacturing war items. So this is really wild because it basically is forcing everyone to sort of be on board and help with war, which is something that violates so many people’s consciences. Like I think that should violate most people’s conscience. But, you know, war is something that’s really crazy, really terrible. And if your government gets into a war that you don’t agree with, you shouldn’t be forced to basically go along with it. So, the other thing about these kinds of laws is they make it really easy for the government to kind of scapegoat people and make them seem like criminals are like bad people just for not supporting everything that the government does, which is really crazy. And we’ve seen that happen a few times throughout history. I mean, I think about, honestly, in World War II, how Japanese Americans were put in intern camps. Which were just basically, someone would show up at their house, say, you’re coming with us, we’re the US government, and they would be put in this camp, indefinitely and imprisoned for literally no reason other than that the government was suspicious of the Japanese. So all of these thousands of people were put in these camps. And it’s awful. I think it’s one of the worst things that our government’s done to its own people during the war, ever. So that’s I think war, I’m kind of getting off on a tangent here, but war I think is used a lot of times as an excuse to get people to go along with really unjust laws in the name of quote-unquote safety.
Brittany: You know, I wasn’t gonna bring this up, but you just reminded me of it. The draft, you know, draft dodgers, it used to be, It wasn’t a fe was it a felony? It was, I don’t remember.
Emma:I don’t know. It was very, bad.
Brittany: It was bad. You had spent a lot of time in jail. Yeah. And, you know, people draft dodgers, what it was called, if you go to like Canada or you’d try to find a way out and people frowned upon and they aren’t doing their patriotic duty, it was a crime. But that is one I think I would be happy to break if I needed to. Yeah. So another one, the Fugitive Slave Act, which is pretty bad. So the Fugitive Slave pretty bad, very bad Fugitive, slave act is, there was a law that where the line was cut, where slavery was allowed and where it wasn’t. So basically, how am I gonna explain this? So, if a slave ran away and they ran away to a territory where slavery was not allowed, and somebody found them, they were legally, they had to give them back. So let’s say you were a slave, you escaped to freedom somewhere. Well, if somebody found you, they had to legally bring you back to your owner. So you would be put back into slavery. And that to me is just terrible because imagine tasting freedom and feeling like finally, you know, you might be able to live your life as a human being how you’re supposed to live. And then you get taken and thrown right back. And that’s where I would hope that there are some heroic stories of people who didn’t want to do that, right? Who tried to harbor these people that were just trying to get a piece of their freedom? So I think that’s one law that had I lived in that time, I would’ve been very happy to break.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. There’s so many. And the draft dodging thing is interesting too because I think the more time goes on, the more those people are sort of vindicated because people have started to realize that, you know, the Vietnam War was not the best idea and that we were told a lot of lies about how it was going over there and all of that stuff. And what’s really sad is that a lot of people who the government forced to go fight in that war came home and weren’t taken care of in the way that they were promised by the government.
Brittany: They’re still not, that’s a sad thing.
Emma: Yeah. Still not because a lot of those veterans are still alive today. It wasn’t that long ago.
Brittany: You know, Emma, you remind me of something if you, oh, sorry, go ahead.
Emma: Yeah, no, go ahead.
Brittany: You talked about, people saying things about the war effort, and that actually yeah. Kind of scared me a little bit. Cause Connor and I talked about the, you know, ministry of truth. That’s not what it’s really called, but it’s called Board of Disinformation or something equally silly. Oh yeah. Now, right now they have not made disinformation a crime. I say now because I’m not holding my breath. But, you reminded me of that because they are claiming that the reason they’re doing it is so that there’s no disinformation that harms our national security. And that really stood out to me kind of like that. Right. Because they were saying, you know, you shouldn’t say anything that could disrupt or, you know, the war effort. And in this case, it’s like, don’t say anything that goes against our narrative in this thing. So who knows sooner rather than later I sure hope not. We might have a law where that happened. But that actually leads me to the final one I wanna talk about. In 1940, they had something called The Alien Registration Act. And that is not an alien from outer space. Aliens are anyone who’s not born here. So there was a law that made it a crime to basically advocate or, you know, for, to like champion the overthrowing of the government, which is silly law, I can see where they’d be scared of that, but it gets worse. So they also wanted all non-citizens that lived in the US to register with the government and get their fingerprints, didn’t get, and keep IDs and papers with them at all times so that you knew that if like somebody did try to overthrow the government, you could blame those people first. And that’s terrifying then. And it’s funny, as I am like reading this today, I am like, oh wait, we all have to do that now. Now we have like real IDs. Now we have vaccine passports that some places still would like to see. I know in DC I’ve had a couple of people ask for them. I had a comedy show and event where I had to show them. Yeah. So it’s just funny to me ’cause it’s like these were seen, I would’ve happily broken that law, but now it’s like, that might be a long, it’s kind of a law now.
Emma: Yeah. Well all yeah, also too, it’s like there are a lot of people who say you should never leave your house without your id, which is just strange. Cause like, you know, if a police officer started giving you a hard time and said, I need to see your ID, it’s like, well, why don’t you have it on you? You know? And I find that really strange. Maybe that’s a weird thing to be weirded out by, but I just find it strange that just to exist and to like walk down the street, there’s now this expectation that you’re gonna have your real ID on you, which is connected to your birth certificate and your passport and all this stuff. It’s just like, I dunno, that kind of feels like a lot. Not to mention it takes a lot of time and money to actually get those things. Like, I think the fact that the government just expects everyone to have all of these pieces of ID on them all the time and then also makes it super, like, super laborious and long
Brittany: To get them.
Emma: And expensive for them to get those things, I just find it really ridiculous. But beyond that, the government does all sorts of things that are wrong. They try to make us go along with morals that might contradict our own. And I think at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with, if you really truly believe that the law is violating, you know, violating those basic truths, you know, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, there might be a case to break that law. And that’s something that we can’t tell you what it’s gonna be case by case. That’s for individuals to decide and make that choice on their own. So we’re not telling you guys just go out and start breaking laws, but it’s something to be measured and calculated and really thought about. But in the right situation, it can actually make a lot of sense and maybe even do some good. So that’s where we’re gonna wrap it up today, guys. Thanks for listening and we will talk to you all again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.