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Under what circumstances is it the duty of citizenship to challenge a law?
Franz Rudolf Von Weiss, diplomat, and Martin Luther King Jr., leader in the Civil Rights Movement once said that the purpose of all law is justice. Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan, stated that the purpose of law is to maintain order in society. Citizenship comes with responsibilities and duties and when laws are no longer establishing justice and order, it is the duty of citizenship to challenge those laws.
Throughout history there have been laws that have failed at establishing justice and order; many of which have been challenged. An example is the Fugitive Slave Act, passed by United States Congress on September 18, 1850, which required the United States government and its citizens to assist slave owners in recapturing their fugitive slaves. This law gave slave owners the right to claim back slaves who ran away to free states. It forcibly compelled citizens and forced authorities in free states to help capture runaway slaves and return them to their masters. Citizens challenged this law for its cruelty, for not giving slaves a right to liberty, and for being forceful. A petition was created by the citizens of Farmington, Maine, asking Congress to repeal the Fugitive Slave Act. Congressman of Maine, John Hovey Rice, spoke about the evils of slavery in May of 1862 and presented the petition on June 19, 1862. Citizens continued to challenge this unjust law and on June 28, 1864, the fugitive slave act was repealed. Among what was ruled, it was ruled that this law violated the 10th amendment. Citizens had the duty to challenge this law for being forceful to states, authority, and citizens, and for its cruelty. As a result of doing so, many slaves gained their freedom, which is a right now embedded in the United States Declaration of Independence.
Another example where citizens had the duty to challenge laws was with the restrictions that were placed on voting. “Jim Crow Laws”, included poll taxes, literacy tests, and the grandfather clauses, which deprived African Americans of the right to vote. The 19th Amendment before it was ratified in 1920, only allowed males to vote. These laws were not just (fair). As a result, there were protests, boycotts, powerful speeches were given, and racial barriers and segregation by race and gender were challenged. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, in 1964, legally ending discrimination and segregation that had been institutionalized by Jim Crow laws. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act ended efforts to keep minorities from voting. Even though many were injured and even killed in the process of minorities challenging these unjust laws, it is thanks to the citizens that challenged these laws, that millions of African Americans and women have been able to vote ever since. Voting is a way to use one's powerful voice to elect those that we believe will best represent us, a right given to minorities as a result of rightfully challenging unfair laws.
Among duties that citizens have are: supporting and defending the constitution and respecting and obeying laws. However, these examples demonstrate that there is also a duty to challenge a law if it is unjust, forceful, cruel, and creates disorder and chaos in society. Many say history is important because it helps us learn from our mistakes. I am a strong believer in that phrase and that the positive sides of history have allowed us to learn useful methods to approach different circumstances. We have seen that challenging laws has led to positive results such as freedom for slaves and enfranchisement for African Americans and women. Now the present generations must exercise the rights given to them, fulfill their duty of challenging laws when they are unjust, cruel, and create disorder, and to welcome change when it is needed!
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