Civil Rights and Civil Disobedience

“The peace and welfare of any nation finally depends upon the translation of natural human rights into law.  This was evident to the founding fathers of America as it must become evident to us now.”

The heart of this sermon, delivered on February 19, 1967, is Rabbi Olan’s belief that equality has been given by God, not by rulers or legislators.  Because equal rights are God-given, no government can withhold them legitimately, though they can and should be protected by human laws.  Rabbi Olan recognizes that people differ in abilities and circumstances, but fundamentally, they are all, in Jefferson’s words, “endowed by their Creator” with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Rabbi Olan squarely faces the tension between equal opportunity and other rights such as property rights: for example, isn’t a landlord free to rent to some but not to others?  No, says Rabbi Olan: “No man or group of men have the moral right to deny a man an equal chance with all other men.  It is a violation of the spirit of our founding fathers and it is blasphemy against God.”

When rights are denied, Rabbi Olan says that “bad laws must be protested” but never by violence.  However, he urges us to try to understand why the disenfranchised may resort to violence in their desperation.

What do you think Rabbi Olan would say about that today?

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.

*Written by Lionel S Joseph and Frances M Olan*