Martin Luther King and the Question of ‘Illegal Laws’

January 19, 2015

On Monday, January 26, Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. will address the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America as part of its “Faith in Action” series.  The subject of his talk will be: “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Question of ‘Illegal Laws’: Civil Law, Justice, and Morality.” In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr., argued that he could rightly disobey duly enacted civil laws enforcing segregation and racial discrimination.  A “man-made law” is “no law at all,” he wrote, when it is “out of harmony with the moral law” and “is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”  Sometimes the civil law tries to legalize injustice and make illegal what is right.  This is a perversion of the law, King argued, which can be resisted and should be reversed. King has been vindicated for his principled stand (for which he suffered).  He is among the most honored Americans of the twentieth century.  But re-reading his argument today raises anew serious questions about the relationship between law, justice, and morality – questions that are as relevant to the controversies of today as they were in 1963. Fr. Dominic Legge, formerly a trial lawyer with the Constitutional Torts section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and now a theologian and member of the Dominican Order, will examine King’s argument and the questions it raises, in order to illustrate how they can lead us to a better grasp of what law is and how it is related to justice and morality. The talk will be delivered at 12:30pm in Room 213 of the Columbus School of Law at CUA on Monday, January 26th.  Pizza and soda will be served.  Please RSVP to

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