Conforming to the laws of the land
Rather than talking about the need to conform to the laws of the land, I would stress the importance of adhering to the rule of law. The rule of law means that people are governed not by the whims and fancies of individuals but by the law, which provides certainty and predictability. The rule of law also means respecting human rights (such as the rights of human liberty and security) and individual rights and freedoms (such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to dissent). One cannot speak on the need to conform to laws without speaking of the need to respect human rights – including the rights of the weakest groups of society. It’s important that not only the citizen but also those in government respect the rule of law and act within the framework of the spirit of the law.
Conforming to the laws of the land also requires the state to apply the law with an even hand and not apply the law in an indiscriminate manner.
However, we should also not forget that human history is strewn with examples of people consciously refusing to conform to laws that were cruel, inhuman or manifestly unjust, and practised civil disobedience.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March was intended to defy the unjust laws of the British rulers who had imposed a tax on the production of salt.
In the United States, Rosa Parks was arrested by the police for refusing to give up her seat to a white individual in defiance of the segregation laws, which operated in the bus services in Alabama. It is said that as the officer took her away, she recalled that she asked: “Why do you push us around?” She remembered him saying: “I don’t know; but the law’s the law and you’re under arrest.”
So in certain extreme cases, there may be a higher duty to disobey the law – such as the laws of apartheid and segregation, and those that violate the principles of our common humanity. In expressing dissent, one must be mindful that such expressions do not spill over into violence or result in wrongful deeds.
As Martin Luther King said, in his famous speech from the Lincoln Memorial: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”
It’s important that not only the citizen but also those in government respect the rule of law and act within the framework of the spirit of the law