In The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy Spiegel and Cowan first provide a general definition: "Civil disobedience is generally defined as conscientious, public, and nonviolent resistance to unjust public laws or policies." Fair enough. But "unjust" in what sense? This is where some helpful distinctions can come into play:
First, some legal systems are unjust because they require evil. . . .In other words, someone might ask you if you believe in "civil disobedience," but it helps to know what form of injustice requires disobedience--is it when the government prescribes evil, promotes evil, permits evil, or prohibits the good?
Second, some legal systems are unjust because they promote evil. . . .
Third, a legal system may be unjust because it permits evil. . . .
Finally, a legal system may be unjust because it prohibits good acts. . . .
Cowan and Spiegel then point out that "for Christians, only one category is noncontroversial: disobeying laws of the first variety where evil actions are mandated." But this then raises another distinction:
Passive civil disobedience involves a refusal to do what the law requires.So the point of this post is not necessarily "civil disobedience," but rather the importance of thinking carefully and distinguishing judiciously.
Active civil disobedience involves doing what the law prohibits.