Thursday, February 15, 2007

Loyalty to Government and fight for respect of rights

Read on the american baha'i website

The US Supreme Court ruled out the principle "separate but equal" in a famous Brown v. Board of Education case.

But this decision Sweatt v. Painter contributed to pave the way for this major evolution.

The story of Heman Marion Sweatt, an afro-american baha'i law student who got the authorization to enter a white only university illustrate a limit to the principle of loyalty to the government.

Baha'is are loyal to their government and respect legal rules, but they are entitled to fight for their rights in all legal manners.

This is in substance also the recommendation of the Universal House of Justice to Egyptian baha'is who are still denied the basic rights of citizenship (for a regular update).


Bilo said...

Thank you for posting this. It answers those who have commented on blog posts stating "since Baha'is are under the obligation to obey their governments, they should not be fighting for their rights."

It is important to be reminded that Baha'is must obey their just governments, but also are under the obligation to defend their civil and human rights whenever necessary.

Phillipe Copeland said...

This is a very important issue. I've been exploring Baha'i activism in the past and am currently working on the issue of liberation and the African American community. Someone commented on my blog that Baha'i teaching about obedience to government would have ruled out the civil disobedience that many believe contributed greatly to the success of the civil rights movement or the independence movement lead by Ghandi in India. I'm mentioned that while Baha'i teaching might rule out civil disobedience, utilization of the legal system such as the approached used in attacking segregation in public schools during the 50's would have been perfectly fine. Could someone offer further commentary on the limits and possibility of Baha'i activism, as for some the issue of obedience to government is misunderstood as being passive in the face of injustice. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Baha'is have falsely concluded from the teaching of obedience to civil government that they should, to put it bluntly, act like doormats when their rights are trampled on.

There may sometimes be a case for forebearance, and we certainly shouldn't make strident or unreasonable demands. But, as Universal House of Justice's wonderful letter to the Egyptian beliefers makes clear, we have to stand up and be counted alongside others who are promoting universal human rights.

And that includes the human rights of Baha'is who are deprived of their rights in Iran, Egypt and other countries. In this, of course, are guided by the House of Justice and by the Baha'i International Community.

This letter on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer (12 January 2003) helps us understand our position more deeply:

"Your email letter of 8 November 2002 has been received at the Bahá'í World Centre and passed to our Department for response. As you are aware, it is not the practice of Bahá'í institutions or individuals to take positions on the political decisions of governments. One of the greatest obstacles to progress is the tendency of Bahá'ís to be drawn into the general attitudes and disputes that surround them. The central importance of the principle of avoidance of politics and controversial matters is that Bahá'ís should not allow themselves to be involved in the disputes of the many conflicting elements of the society around them.

"The aim of the Bahá'ís is to reconcile viewpoints, to heal divisions, and to bring about tolerance and mutual respect among men, and this aim is undermined if we allow ourselves to be swept along by the ephemeral passions of others. This does not mean that Bahá'ís cannot collaborate with any non-Bahá'í movement; it does mean that good judgment is required to distinguish those activities and associations which are beneficial and constructive from those which are divisive."

I also have a copy of a wonderful letter sent on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer in the UK about Baha'is and social activism.

I'll post it on my blog in the next day or two.

Bilo said...

Thank you Barney for the clear and direct thoughts on the matter.

Daniel C-S said...

All these interesting comments will trigger some more deeper search about the question the form of which has still to be discussed.

The goal to have a think-tank here has produced a first result...

One point : food for thought!

We baha'is are (and it is obviously normal) always keen to stand up to defend the rights of our friends in Iran, Egypt or elsewhere depending on the demands of the Universal House of Justice.

But I acknowledge, at least at a national levels (i do not know enough the international one to speak about it), we often are reluctant to stand up together with others to defend other terrible and sometimes much more urgent (thinking of Darfur for example) human rights issues.

I know we have to set priorities because of our limited number of ressources etc, but this is something we shouldn't loose the sight of, because in the long run it will not be a very consistent approach and we may loose the support of people we're not ready/able to support when they may need help.

Speaking of the respect and obediance to our institutions, we have the right in our administration to request to be heard by our institutions and appeal decisions until the highest level is reached.

A perfect example of using "legal ways" to obtain answers when one thinks a decision was misleaded because of anything whatsoever.

Bilo said...

My personal view: in order to be credible we need to be consistent....

Anonymous said...

People tend to overlook or not really focus on the "JUST" government requirement. That word wasn't JUST thrown in there for fun, it has serious connotations for a lot of communities who have not been dealt with in a JUST manner.

I don't get involved in Activism of any sort because it implies faith and belief that the current system/world order is correct and needs only to be reformed from within to function properly. In other words if I know the TITANIC is indeed sinking I'm not going to waste time and help others enjoy the ride until we all drown.

Human rights are God given and any attempt at curtailing, exploiting or oppressing them should be resisted vigorously by any means necessary.

Charles Boyle said...

Mr Sweatt WAS being obedient to the government - using established channels and mechanisms of law to redress a terrible wrong.

Anonymous said...

If a tyrannical regime passed a law which stated that all Baha'i either renounce their faith in the name of atheism are register for execution via firing squads, then Baha'i are in a Catch 22. Civil disobedience in such cases is the only recourse for Baha'i - but this is equal to breaking their Covenant. In such in instances Human Evil wins by virtue of the unwillingness of Good to be Good by doing Good.