We've Seen This Picture Before

My father served, along with the men of his generation, in WW II, against the Nazis who threatened all of human kind, and particularly the mentally challenged, Jews, gays, lesbians, Communists, and anyone they deemed a threat to their regime, with concentration and extermination camps, and death.

Slavery in the U.S. basically ended legally not in 1863, but in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act.

Yesterday we witnessed Nazis and segregationists who seek a return to hate filled government that threatens rather than protects minorities who are citizens. The President of the U.S. hesitated to condemn the hatred, and when he issued a statement, although he tweets his every thought, had a spokesperson attribute the statement to him rather than issue it himself. This enables him to deny the statement to those of his constituency, whom he appeases at every opportunity, to deny in the future that the statement actually expresses his opinions. As David Duke said, the demonstrations are the fulfillment of the promise of the Trump presidency.

A national consensus is forming that the President of the U.S. is a demagogue who opposes human rights of all minorities, except the white minority. But some have forgotten what segregation was like, and how blacks were oppressed by law in this country. Indeed, through maintaining the largest incarcerated population in the free world and plea bargaining rather than trials many would argue the oppression continues. So I have included a section of Dr King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

I have been impressed with how people are beginning to stand up to the Trump Regime. I do not have a solution as to how to oppose his desire for absolute power and disdain for democracy.

But this I do now know: the free press, the attention of the masses of Americans who can see the truth, the rise of interest in politics and running for office, the political activism rising among the American people are necessary to avert disaster to American democracy. The skirmishes are many and will continue, but we must oppose renewed oppression wherever it arises and with whatever legal and non-violent means we can muster. Create coalitions across racial and religious lines. Form new friendships and allies. Help minorities to educate and raise their children and give the poor refuge whenever possible. A renewal of democracy may result, but at the very least, we may prove that the "checks and balances of American democracy" are not just embodied in Congress and the judiciary, but in the people themselves.

The Nazis, the segregationists, the haters of all stripes will lose when we rise up as a people and force them back into the dark places from which they have risen to threaten our democracy and our lives. We will not allow Nazis and segregationists to use the protections of democracy to destroy democracy.

Let us be strong, and together we will be strengthened.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Letter from the Birmingham Jail

... We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights ... Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. 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 sinful. Paul Tillich has 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.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.