If you’re a North Carolinian, odds are you know about the so-called “Moral Monday” protests at the General Assembly. Since late April, an NAACP-led group of progressive organizations has assembled to protest the legislature’s so-called “reckless and heartless policies.” Protestors show up, enter the General Assembly, sing and carry on a bit, ignore requests from police officers to leave the premises, and then get arrested. If you’ve been following the News and Observer or WRAL coverage, you probably think that the protestors are Average Joes, a cross-section of North Carolina. They’re not, but more on that later.
I’d like to take a step back for a moment, and talk about what ‘Moral Mondays’ really mean for republican government in North Carolina. Not big-R Republican government, but republican government: a system in which the people govern themselves by electing officials to represent them. In order for elections and free government to work, there has to be majority rule. Democracy ceases to function when a vocal minority abrogates the electoral will of the people. And right now, that is exactly what is happening in North Carolina.
Protest leaders such as the Rev. William Barber have argued that the majority is abusing its power. And it’s true that sometimes majorities can abuse their powers: in the early 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out the dangers of exactly this problem. But the response to this should not be law-breaking. In 1838, Abraham Lincoln urged people to obey even laws that they disagreed with:
When I so pressingly urge for a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise … I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.
Lincoln’s concern was that contempt for specific laws would breed contempt for the laws in general. Now, the rights of free speech and assembly are sacred in the United States, and I’m certainly not suggesting that disaffected North Carolinians should not avail themselves of these things. But by breaking the law, Barber and his associates are costing North Carolina taxpayers, hurting the North Carolina public safety system, and — worst of all – undermining the rule of law in our democratic republic.