Renowned speaker discusses civil disobedience and law with witty presentation


Photo by: Daniel O’Loughlin

A humorous and knowledgeable philosophy and law expert presented “Aquinas and King: A Discourse on Civil Disobedience” as the first of the semester’s Friday Academic Lecture Series on Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery.

The lecture, presented by Charles Nemeth, who holds a doctorate of law from the University of Baltimore Law, included an overview of the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr. on civil disobedience and law. Nemeth then showed how their teachings shared similar foundations, moral principles and Christian philosophy. He accompanied his analysis with a slideshow and a plethora of witty comments.

“I feel like Dr. Nemeth could be best described as a modern-day Chesterton,” said freshman Tori Swanner. “His endearing personality kept me and the rest of the audience in rapt attention for the entirety of his discussion.”

After an introduction by Franciscan political science professor Benjamin Wiker, Nemeth began the lecture by pointing out that King needed Aquinas as a foundation for his teachings, many of which shaped America into the country that it is today.

The first part of the presentation explored Aquinas’ conception of law as “a rule or measure of acts” whereby man is induced to act or not act, governed by reason, the first principle of human action. Nemeth also showed that man’s law depends on a higher order and should be interconnected and consistent with eternal, natural and divine laws.

After briefly considering the qualities of just laws and unjust laws, Nemeth then demonstrated how King references Aquinas in many of his writings, which address the higher powers, Christian influence, human dignity and civil disobedience. Both historical figures encouraged action against immoral or unfair laws.

The lecture was followed by a short Q&A session in which the audience participated in a discussion that examined the morality of disobedience to unjust laws and tyrants.

“Dr. Nemeth is a witty, charismatic speaker with an extensive knowledge on the topic,” said junior Christina Pugh. “The connection between St. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr. is undeniable, and it was a pleasure listening to his talk.”

Nemeth has written a number of books that explore the philosophy of Aquinas, including “Aquinas in the Courtroom,” “Aquinas on Crime,” “Aquinas and King” and his most recent: “Cicero and Aquinas.”

The next presentation in the Friday Academic Lecture Series will take place in the Gentile Gallery on Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.