Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?"
The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws.
Now what is the difference between the two? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. All segregation statues 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 is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law."
[Excerpted from "Letter From Birmingham City Jail" April 16, 1963.]