When authority is wrong

A comment on a blog post of mine got me thinking. The comment was encouraging innocent citizens to submit to a search of their person or property without probable cause if requested by law enforcement, and was quoting the Bible where it tells us to obey the law and those in authority.

And I obviously don’t disagree with the Bible.

But does the Bible really advocate blind obedience to authority?

What about the times when the authorities are wrong?

I was once approached while volunteering at a school and told that I was not allowed to breastfeed my newborn in the empty hallway during classes. She was wrong. I did not stop. I was not rude or snotty about it. I just told her that I had the legal right to do so and I was planning to continue to feed my baby in the empty hallway, where I had gone because I wanted to be sensitive to the (potential and unspoken) concerns of the classroom teacher.

A year or so ago, a woman called 911 (I think in Des Moines, but I could be wrong) because someone was actively trying to break in her window. She told the 911 operator that she had her gun out and pointed at the window and if the man got in before the cops got there she was planning to shoot him. I believe she has that right in every state in the union, and I know she has that right in Iowa.  The 911 operator told her she HAD to put down her weapon. The woman explained that no, she would put her weapon down once the operator told her the police were on the scene, but not a minute earlier. And the woman was right.

How about this one? On our way to Omaha this weekend, we saw a car pulled over by a completely unmarked white SUV with the dashboard lights. It’s the police’s right to do that. It’s also my right to refuse to pull over for that car, and as a woman, if I were traveling alone, I would most definitely NOT pull over. I would put on my hazards, slow down, and pull off at the next populated exit to utilize a gas station parking lot, or call 911 on my cell phone. This PDF from a Maryland PD offers some helpful tips in this situation: http://www.co.ho.md.us/police/docs/tipsonunmarkedcars.pdf     They recommend doing exactly what I said above.

Recently, I have been watching 9/11 documentaries, which brought this subject to mind again. 911 operators, company security officers, and the WTC building operators were all telling people in those towers to stay put. Yes, that’s protocol for a high rise fire. Hundreds of people, whose instinct was to get out of there second-guessed themselves and headed back up to their offices, and ot their deaths, because they decided to obey authority instead of their own good sense.

Even when the authorities are not wrong, doesn’t mean that you have to do what they ask. You have to be calm and polite. On 9/11, police were directing people out on the street to go here, go there, get out of this building and out onto the street and walk, etc. Some of the people were asking why. The police were understandably PO’d at the questioning, but I think the people were right to ask. (Not to challenge – just to ask what the situation was. And if the situation is such that there’s not time to answer, then the policeman doesn’t have to answer.) Citizens are still allowed to make up their own minds. Am I safer in this building (which may be hit by a bomb or missile, but affords protection otherwise), or am I safer on the street (which offers no protection but allows mobility)?

If a policeman comes to my door and asks to search my house because he thinks I make cocaine in my basement, but he doesn’t have a warrant, I don’t have to consent to the search. If he feels he has probable cause and believes he can justify that to a court, he may enter against my will, but I do not have to help him, I do not have to let him in, and I do not have to consent.

That is the law.

I don’t see how obeying the law is against the teachings of the Bible.

“Because I’m not doing anything wrong” is not a reason to allow the search. It’s a reason to refuse the search.

I do see how consistent refusal to exercise our rights results in the gradual eroding of those rights, though, and that scares me. I also see how consistent blind obedience results in the gradual eroding of personal responsibility, and personal decision-making, and that scares me, too.



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