People wonder what sanctuary means legally. Legal answers to this are only half of the story. Legal considerations shouldn’t be divorced from ethical ones.
Historical examples of unjust laws and policy include: (1) Indiana didn’t recognize marital rape until 1998. In Ohio, marital rape by coercion remains a legally non punishable offense. Is this just? (2) Slavery was once legal in the US. Was slavery just? (3) The genocide of Indigenous Americans was legal. Was that just? The list of examples shattering any argument in favor of following unjust laws is endless.
Law has served to codify a broken system’s treatment of segments of the population, regulating access to basic humanity and dignity. To blindly enforce laws means endorsing the financial and political will of the status quo; a status quo that is often dictated by lobbyists motivated by their bottom line. Do we like having a 40-hour workweek or work environments that don’t put lives in unnecessary risk? Labor laws were written because American workers organized to resist inhumane workplace standards with strikes, demonstrations, and boycotts. Otherwise we would still be legally exploited as workers.
Unjust laws get written. People and institutions must challenge their legitimacy. The founding “fathers” had the foresight and understanding to see that the governing laws of this country needed avenues and institutions by which to change. Shaming citizens for exercising their legal right to advocate for the creation of humane and ethical policies is amoral and ahistorical.
Civil disobedience and public protest don’t result in anarchy. Their result is a shift in societal values, norms and, eventually, policy. The process of civic and political participation, which sometimes moonlights as civil disobedience, is a means to an end: policy that reflects these moral shifts. The history of this country shows that those who benefit most from unjust policy are often the biggest proponents of the status quo. In almost all of the most shameful parts of American history, oppressive systems were legal.
IU, as a collective of individuals, is faced with the same civic duty to resist inhumane and amoral laws, a calling shared by men like Thoreau and Jefferson. Every IU administrator, faculty, staff, or student must ask themselves: Am I willing to challenge policy when it no longer reflects the values and mission of the community it serves? IU’s principles of ethical conduct, found in section 3 subsection 2, declare the IU community will “avoid all forms of harassment, discrimination, threats, or violence” and “provide and promote equal access to programs facilities, and employment.” The discrimination, violence, and educational barriers faced by undocumented people, including students in this community, run counter to the professed protections in this policy. UndocuHoosiers Bloomington is advocating for the institution to uphold its own values and protect the most vulnerable members of our community. To do what is right may not be convenient, popular, or comfortable, but history shows no mercy when recounting the story of the coward.
IU as a legal, economic, bureaucratic, and political entity has the same obligation as any citizen. Complicity in a system that endorses the immoral separation of families implicates the University as a participant in violence. UndocuHoosiers will continue to ask the University to use its vast financial, political, and geographic power to help members of our Bloomington community who have been, and will continue to be, persecuted by racist and xenophobic policy.
We leave you, the reader, with this question: Is civil disobedience and noncompliance with the law only seen as morally acceptable when white people throw tea into Boston Harbor?
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