By Mario Gonzalez, Esq.
For more, visit www.gonzlawgroup.com
A Biblical Legal Analysis of Citizen's Rights
There are two instances in Scripture where the Apostle Paul exercises his rights as a Roman citizen, but he does so for different reasons. He does so in Philippi (Acts 16) to protest to the Government's misuse of power over its citizenry. We must make sure that Government appropriately uses the power with which they have been entrusted. He insists that those who harmed and humiliated him personally address the situation and make amends to him publically (apologize). The second instance is in Jerusalem found in Acts 21. In this case, an issue concerning the Gospel is at stake. He demands his rights be observed so that ultimately God's will for his life could be accomplished, having been told by God that he was to "bear witness in Rome." Demanding justice of our leadership ultimately benefits the people and helps them to reach their divine destiny. By doing so, we often speak for those who do not have a voice.
In Acts 16, and then again in Acts 21-23, we see a part of the apostle Paul that might, at first glance, seem contradictory to the philosophy he espouses in Romans 13 concerning the divine appointment of governmental authority and the Christian's obligation to submit to it.
In these chapters we see Paul exercising his right of provocatio, or 'appeal' as a Roman citizen. This was a right rooted in the Roman right to appeal to the sovereign people, provocatio ad populum. The Lex Iulia de vi codified the rights of cives (Roman citizens – generally members of high Roman society of which Paul was a part) as opposed to the very limited rights of the perergrinus (the ordinary provincial). The Lex Iulia protected the Roman citizen who invoked the right of provocatio from "from summary punishment, execution or torture without trial, from private or public arrest, and from actual trial by magistrates outside Italy. They (the provisions of the law) are to be understood in connection with the ordo system, which had been created for the protection of Roman citizens - a method of trial by jury at Rome for statutory offences."
When Paul and Silas were dragged in before the magistrates in Acts 16, the procedure followed initially comported with that expected for "extra ordinem" charges by a party with standing. However, the magistrates departed from legal procedure when they ordered Paul and Silas to be flogged and thrown in jail, in direct violation of their rights as cives Romani. God of course miraculously intervened and dramatically set them free that evening, after which it could be said that they voluntarily submitted to their illegal detention. After discovering their incompetence and gross error the following morning, the magistrates sent word that Paul and Silas should immediately be set free. Paul, however, refused to leave demanding instead that the magistrates themselves come to get them, apologize, and personally escort them out of jail for all to see. He made it a point to publicly display his indignation over the fact that he, a Roman citizen, had been so mistreated by "government officials" who had abused their sacred trust (power - Romans 13) in violation of his rights.
There are many among us for whom we act as surrogates - legal residents as well as undocumented people groups. We are their only voice. Standing for the rights of people in the face of governmental abuse and neglect is not only biblically correct, it is our Christian duty.