By Mary Beall ACLU Legislative Intern

Both the American historical and political perspectives have anointed King as a beacon of civil rights. King’s contributions to the development of civil liberties are inarguable and, through action, he changed the American landscape. King was also a law breaker.

King was criticized by many, including those sympathetic to the civil rights movement, for this resistance. Many individuals encouraged King to wait for change to come through the political system. But, King would not wait.

King’s tolerance for unjust laws had dissipated and he fought for change. While King viewed good laws as bulwarks against injustice, he stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that when laws cease to be just, “they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social justice.” To fight this, unjust laws must be broken.

King’s actions upheld an extremely important tenant of the Declaration of Independence: “…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them [Americans] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.“ King and many others suffered under institutionalized despotism. For example, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King explains the pain of having to explain discrimination to his children. To end this injustice, King took a page from the Declaration of Independence and fought to destroy the pillars of despotism, while maintaining the country he loved. His was certainly a unique aim.

So, today, in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr., a man who gave all of himself to his cause, take action! The Montana State Legislature is in session, and various bills that aim to curb your rights, and the rights of your neighbors, are being proposed. Stand up for your rights, the rights of those who are marginalized, and those who cannot stand up for their own rights. Today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., cast off complacency and fight for freedom.