An Assessment of the Morality of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Prison

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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On October 7th Byron Lawrie was arrested outside Parliament House for standing in the middle of the road with a BBQ. Referring to Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Prison, evaluate the morality of his protest.

On October 7th, Byron Lawrie, the minister of barbeques, was arrested due to his protest against climate change. He was charged with public nuisance but pleaded not guilty. In 1963, King was arrested during the Birmingham campaign against racism and segregation and was charged with disobeying the ruling. In the Birmingham jail, King wrote the letter “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a response to eight white clergymen’s criticism of their campaign. Through reading King’s letter, it can be found that Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest should be appreciated as he takes moral responsibility to address social problems, promote negotiation, and contribute to the modification of laws.

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First of all, Byron Lawrie protests that he is taking moral responsibility to address social problems. Martin Luther King (1963) suggests in his letter that the privileged groups have seldom given up their privileges voluntarily, and it depends on the oppressors to demand freedom (1963). By saying this Martin Luther King implies that common people should be responsible for addressing social problems that harm their interests. It is obvious that Byron Lawrie assumes this responsibility. As climate change becomes a global problem that affects every one’s life, citizens should be aware of the necessity to ask the government or lawmakers to realize the seriousness of this problem. 

Through this protest, he successfully catches individuals’ and the government’s attention to the problem of climate change, which can push society to think how to stop climate change. In fact, non-violent movement is one of the most effective ways to address a social problem. According to Sharp (2010), non-violent movement is the most powerful means available to individuals who struggle for social changes. Irene (2016) also suggests that non-violent movements can create conditions for a more sustainable society that can satisfy the need of all people. It is evident that non-violent movements play an important role in making social progress because it can bring necessary changes to society. Climate change has threatened not only human life but also the survival of other species. For example, climate change has led to more frequent extreme weather events, rising sea level, and a higher death rate of wildlife. Therefore, citizens have the moral responsibility to protest against climate change so as to bring social changes, which contributes to a sustainable society.

Secondly, Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can promote the negotiation between the government and the citizens so that the problem of climate change can be better addressed. According to Marin Luther King, nonviolent direction action such as marches, sit-ins is to open the door to negotiation, which is one of the four basic steps followed by a nonviolent campaign (2). It is evident that the address of social problem requires negotiation: the negotiation between the privileged group and the common people. Through negotiation, the two groups reach a consensus and take action to solve the problem. Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can help achieve this purpose.

 For one thing, as Martin Luther King suggests, nonviolent direct action can create a crisis in which a community that refused to confront an issue is forced to negotiate. Climate change is an issue that the privileged group is unwilling to recognize to some extent as addressing the problem of climate change can lead to economic loss. In Australia, the ten biggest climate polluters are big companies such as AGL Energy, Energy/Australia and CS Energy, which contribute to the country’s economy significantly. Considering the economic loss of combating climate change, the government and privileged groups may not take enough action. At this point, it is important to take nonviolent protest so as to create a crisis making negotiation possible. Only in this way, can the problem of climate change be better addressed.

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Additionally, Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest can also contribute to the modification of laws, that can significantly help solve the problem of climate change. According to Marth Luther King (1963), “an unjust law is not law at all” (p.3). In order to solve social problems, unjust laws have to be modified or even eliminated. Combating climate change requires relevant legislation. It is important to modify unjust laws that account for climate change. The problem of climate change, to some extent, falls into the category of the Tragedy of the Commons as it is largely caused by the overconsumption of natural resources. According to Elinor Ostrom (1999), an effective way to manage a Commons is to “change rules as an adaptive process” (p.523). It is obvious that Byron Lawrie’s nonviolent protest though to some extent violates traffic rules and social rules, is of great significance to the let the public realize the necessity of changing rules rewarding climate change.

Following Queensland’s new Human Rights Act, Byron Lawrie’s climate protest is moral as it can help make social changes, promote negotiations between the government and citizens and make the modification of laws possible.


  1. Irene, O. F. (2016). Non-violent campaign and social change: lessons from liberia and campaigns
  2. to ban landmine and cluster munitions. International Journal of Peace Studies, 21(1): 45-70.
  3. Sharp, G. (2010). From Dictatorship to Democracy. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution.
  4. Ostrom, E. (1999). Coping with tragedies of the commons. Annual Review of Political Science,

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An Assessment of the Morality of Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Prison. (2022, Jun 21). Retrieved from