Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Cliven Bundy and Tim DeChristopher: Is civil disobedience ever justified?

Published: Saturday, May 17 2014 10:00 p.m. MDT

Pignanelli: Our country was founded on civil disobedience. Mormon heritage, which my children proudly carry, is built on the shoulders of gritty individuals who bucked authority. (Our Italian legacy of defying the Feds is more complicated.) Much of the entrepreneurial spirit in the country is built upon nonconformist fiber. The success of these historic challenges was predicated on a message and a strategy. Unfortunately, we were witness to the exact opposite in the recent past.

Webb: As Americans subscribing to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we know we enjoy God-given rights that government didn’t give to us and can’t take away. We also revere the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, to which all lesser laws must conform.

One could argue that if a law violates one of those God-given rights, or a constitutional principle, then we are justified in disobeying it. But not so fast. Who gets to decide when a law is in violation? If everyone gets to decide for themselves, then we have anarchy. Therefore, we have a court system to decide those weighty matters, and we also have the ability to change or eliminate bad laws through the legislative process.

Thus, civil disobedience — flagrantly violating a law — is rarely justified, especially in our country where we have effective options. That said, I would not absolutely rule out disobeying a law that did violence to a deeply held belief. But if I did so, I would expect to live with the consequences. It would have to be something worth fighting for, worth going to prison for.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere