by Guest Blogger Michael Strauss
The United States has a proud tradition of civil disobedience. And this tradition is one that is heralded by those on both the right (Boston Tea Party, Cliven Bundy) and left (Ferguson, Baltimore). Once again the cry and hue for civil disobedience is being raised, this time primarily by Republican legislators and elected officials, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing gay marriage nationally).
But this raises a rather simple question: Is this actually civil disobedience?
As an old friend stated, there seems to be nothing civil about this disobedience. And while it was meant as a humorous quip, it is also rather on the nose as well.
First and foremost, civil disobedience, at its core, is still disobedience. When you disobey the law, no matter your reasons, you are punished for that disobedience. That is the side of civil disobedience we always seem to conveniently forget.
Despite the fact that he was one of the most peaceful men ever born, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 30 times for civil disobedience. He understood he would be arrested. In fact, mass arrests were literally part of his plan for building publicity for his movement. He never struggled against those arrests and actually refused to accept bail in some cases, in order to show support for his cause.
MLK understood that part of civil disobedience means that you accept your punishment willingly. That is why, no matter how much liberals applauded Bree Newsome (the woman who scaled the flagpole at the SC capitol and removed the Confederate flag), it is right and appropriate that she was arrested and will be tried. If she truly believes in her cause, she should plead guilty.
And then there is Ken Paxton. Ken Paxton would have you believe that he is following in the footsteps of MLK with his civil disobedience against the Supreme Court ruling, but his isn’t. Even if you accept his rather flimsy argument that he is fighting for the rights of religious Americans (that for some reason always seem to be Christians, despite the fact that both Jews and Muslims are likely to hold the same beliefs on “traditional marriage”), rather than against the rights of non-heterosexual Americans, he still isn’t engaging in civil disobedience.
Unlike MLK or Newsome or those patriots in 1773, he simply is unwilling to suffer the penalty for his disobedience. Just the opposite. He explicitly told the clerks and probate judges of Texas that they would have to suffer for obeying his order to invoke religious liberty, in direct violation of the Supreme Court ruling, but that he would be safe in his Ivory Tower. That isn’t civil disobedience. That is simply an abuse of power.
Which brings us to the second reason that Paxton and Abbott and Jindal (and any other elected or appointed official following this path) isn’t engaging in civil disobedience. As my old friend said, there is nothing civil about it. The word “civil” is a reference to Joe or Jane Q. Public. Martin Luther King Jr., the Tea Party patriots, Bree Newsome, Susan B. Anthony and even Cliven Bundy all share a common trait. None of them wielded direct legislative, judicial, or executive power.
Unlike Jane and Joe Q. Public, government officials have legal power and tools to try to change laws. Even Supreme Court rulings can be overruled (the Dred Scott decision is no longer the law of the land). The process may be ponderous, but those tools are available to people at pretty much every level of government, especially to state governors. The average citizen doesn’t have those tools or power, which is why they engage in civil disobedience. Anyone who uses power invested in them to violate the law is simply being a fascist dictator.
If Ken Paxton truly wishes to engage in civil disobedience, then he needs to follow the example of Linda Barnette, the woman who quit her job as a Grenada county clerk rather than issue marriage licenses to non-heterosexual couples. Whether you agree with her stance or not, her decision is a shining example of the correct way to object to this Supreme Court decision. Linda Barnette, a simple county clerk, made a principled, legal stand for her beliefs.
Why are Paxton and Jindal incapable of following her example?
Michael is a New Jersey native that somehow landed in Pittsburgh. He is a writer by trade and an amateur political commentator by choice. He enjoys tweaking the noses of liberals and conservatives alike.