How about a Little Aquinas with Your March on Washington Commemoration?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

I was caught a bit off guard this weekend as tweet after tweet seemed to celebrate abortion as a lasting legacy and a leading rallying cry marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

It started, as I noted Friday, with this:

Then there was:



At the rally Saturday, O’Neill said:

Do not make any mistake: There is a war on women, it is raging on. We have won the war of ideas for women’s equality and we will not let a tyrannical minority send us back to the 1950s or worse. 

She continued:

As women, we demand access to the full range of reproductive health-care services including abortion and birth control and prentaal care and comprehensive sex education for our children.

Speaking just after her, a Georgetown sociology professor said: “We have a dream, we need a team to join the women whose bodies are burdened by antiquated science and out-of-step politicians.”

To celebrate the March on Washington with abortion-rights expansion as a priority is to, I think, ignore this from Martin Luther King, from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression ‘of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

I can’t put words into the mouth of the deceased. I won’t pretend to know how Martin Luther King Jr. would react to Ms. O’Neill at the commemoration of the March event this past weekend, or the cornucopia of Left causes claiming the Civil Rights Movement’s mantle. But I do think it’s hard not to be reflective about some unjust laws the first black president (of “God bless Planned Parenthood” fame, who has accused Catholic bishops of bearing false witness as his administration would march on outright lying about conscience concerns over contraception and abortion in his signature health-care-law) stands behind as we mark the anniversary of King’s Dream speech. 

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