Civil Disobedience

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Civil disobedience is the term assigned to actions taken by individuals to sway public opinion about laws that individuals deem unfair or unjust. Actions taken are usually nonviolent, and can include sit-ins, mass demonstrations, picket lines, and marches. Citizens are acting on their consciences, demonstrating highly advanced moral reasoning skills. Generally, these advanced skills fall into Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development, Stage Five and Six in particular. Characteristics of civil disobedience include no expression of anger, no cursing or insults, no retaliation, and submission to punishment by law enforcement. Historically, there have been many instances of civil disobedience: women’s suffrage, environmental protests, abolition of slavery, and anti-war movements. Two of interest are the civil rights movement and protests of the Vietnam War. These were nonviolent situations that turned violent when law enforcement officers or military got involved, resulting in murders, beatings, and mass arrests of protestors.

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the result of individuals not adhering to a particular law as a matter of moral or political principles (Starr, 1998). Individuals of like minds usually form an organized group to protest the law and attempt to sway public opinion about the law in question. The desired outcome is to affect a change of the law in question, based on conscience of the dissenting group. This is something the Bill of Rights identifies as a right of governed peoples; “the authority of government is derived from the consent of the governed, and when any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it” (Bill of Rights, 1791, Amendmen...

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...ds Coalition to Unleash Power (n.d.) History of Mass Nonviolence. “Civil Disobedience Training. Retrieved from (n.d.) Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Bill of Rights (1791). Retrieved from (n.d.). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. Columbia University Press. Retrieved from

Starr, K. (1998). The Role of Civil Disobedience in Democracy. Retrieved from

The Environmental Law Centre (1999). Civil Disobedience: A Legal Handbook for Activists. Retrieved from

Williams, C. R. & Arrigo, B. A. (2008). Ethics, Crime, and Criminal Justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., p 162.

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