A symbolic, non-violent violation of the law, done deliberately in protest against some form of perceived injustice. Mere dissent, protest, or disobedience of the law does not qualify. The act must be nonviolent, open and visible, illegal, performed for the moral purpose of protesting an injustice, and done with the expectation of being punished.
By peacefully and openly violating the law and submitting to punishment, those engaging in civil disobedience hope to draw attention to the law they hope to reform, the injustice they hope to stop, or the policy or practice they hope to end. By calling into question the justness, fairness, EQUITY, or propriety of the status quo, persons engaging in civil disobedience usually appeal to some form of higher law, whether it be the divine law of god, NATURAL LAW, or some form of moral reasoning.
The philosophical underpinnings for civil disobedience can be found in New Testament writings which report on the teachings of Jesus. They also appear in works by Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, JOHN LOCKE, and THOMAS JEFFERSON. In a famous essay entitled "Civil Disobedience," HENRY DAVID THOREAU claimed that the individual is "a higher and independent power" from which the state obtains its authority. As individuals, people must not wait for the government to recognize injustice and instigate reform, Thoreau said, because the machinery of government moves too slowly. If individuals have right on their side, then they must do right by trying to peacefully and openly change society.
Civil disobedience has been extensively employed around the world by nationalist movements (e.g., MOHANDAS GANDHI used civil disobedience to protest against British colonial rule in India), CIVIL RIGHTS leaders (e.g., MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. used civil disobedience to protest against racial SEGREGATION laws in the United States), and anti-war protestors (e.g., Muhammad Ali used civil disobedience to protest U.S. involvement in the VIETNAM WAR), among others.
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