I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase “the rule of law” batted around in the immigration issue. The best way to stop illegal immigration is to make it legal. Reform the system. Offer many more workers visas because we need them. And for heaven sake’s, stop this inhumane practice of family detention.

Yes we are a nation of laws. Nine times out of 10 we should obey those laws. When those laws are unjust or inhumane, they need to be changed. Sometimes thoughtful disobedience of unjust laws is the way they get changed.

The recent exoneration of The Friendship Nine by a South Carolina Court illustrates this well.

These young men were sentenced to 30 days of hard labor for going into a white five and dime. They were intentionally breaking the law, because the law was unjust. Were they doing the right thing? History undoubtedly will say yes.

I’m particularly amused when I hear Christians tote the phrase “rule of law.” They are quick to quote Paul’s comment in Romans about obeying the governing authorities. The irony in this is that Paul wrote many of his letters from a prison cell. He was there because he had disobeyed the governing authorities by preaching the gospel.

The Bible is filled with stories of civil disobedience. Recently we read the story of the Magi, who were instructed by Herod to report back to him as to the location of the child. They do not do so. In fact they intentionally take an alternate route home.

The central story of the Christian faith is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Crucifixion was the primary means of capital punishment by the Roman Empire. Jesus was likely executed for sedition. The sign over his head said “King of the Jews.” His proclamation of the reign of God was a threat to the kingdoms of Herod and Caesar.

Thousands of early Christians went to their death for defying the state, which demand that they burn incense to Caesar. Saying that Jesus was Lord was a very political statement. It meant that Caesar was not. saying that Jesus was the Son of God was an affront to every Roman coin clearly stating that Augustus was the Son of God. The history of Christianity is the history of civil disobedience.

The apostle Paul may advocate obeying the governing authorities, but he would have no qualms disobeying immoral or unjust laws. It’s high time that we recognize our policies of immigration and detention are immoral, xenophobic and impractical.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.