In the Beatitudes, Christ teaches us that the meek and the merciful are blessed. Also blessed are those who suffer in the name of what is right and just: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That persecution for righteousness sake sometimes comes from other people and at other times even from the government. From ancient philosophers, to St. Thomas Aquinas, to modern citizens, individuals have regularly had to wrestle with the conflict between what is right and what is legal.
In the U.S., the evil of slavery was formally ended by the 13th Amendment. Jim Crow laws, however, prevented legal equality for African Americans while custom prevented social equality. Martin Luther King, Jr,. emerging as a civil rights leader in Alabama, relied on a non-violent approach to awaken the consciences of those who enforced unjust laws, or who allowed them to persist by their silence. King and others faced ridicule, police brutality, and imprisonment. But King explained that non-violent resistance was a means to an end: love and reconciliation.
As an extension, try to identify contemporary issues where nonviolent resistance might be necessary.
- Analyze excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on human dignity, the common good, and the obligation of citizens to obey governmental authorities.
- Compare and contrast historic and modern examples of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance.
- Evaluate whether King’s definition of non-violent resistance is consistent with Catholic teaching.
- Evaluate whether non-violent resistance was justified in the U.S. Civil Rights Era.
Documents include excerpts from:
Document A: Matthew 5:9-10
Document B: Romans 13:1-2
Document C: The Problem of Free Choice, St. Augustine, 395
Document D: Last Recorded Words, St. Thomas More, 1535
Document E: The Power of Non-Violence, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
Document F: Rosa Parks Arrested, December 1, 1955
Document G: Montgomery Bus Boycott Mugshots, February 21, 1956
Document H: Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
Document I: Evangelium Vitae, Bl. Pope John Paul II, 1995
Document J: The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Excerpts on Human Dignity, 1997
Document K: The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Excerpts on the Common Good, 1997
Document L: The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Excerpts on the Duties of Citizens, 1997