The question is, is if you think a law is unjust and unfair, what should you do? Thanks for this. Everyone agrees that unjust laws exist. scandal and disturbance implications are obvious. /* ]]> */ With those stringent requirements for the common good in mind, Aquinas identifies the three main ways laws can benefit their subjects. A “yes” to the second possibility means we may disobey, depending on To the thesis that we are obliged to obey even unjust laws, I will argue that the standard objections to Civil Disobedience, given by Singer, are incorrect To begin, however, I believe it is necessary to define an “unjust” law. against any unjust law would be morally appropriate, but the Thomistic position A while back, a former student now doing graduate work at UC Davis told me of his experience with the “Occupy” protest there. According to Aquinas, laws must issue from an authority that can rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963. For human beings are benefited by living in community, and that gives the well-being of the community, itself, a claim on its members.10 Yet those “burdens”—such as taxes or mandatory military service—that laws impose must be “just” and “proportionate” to qualify as directing the common good.11 In other words, legal burdens have to be shouldered fairly across the community that will benefit from their being carried. is [generally] a subordinate theorem" of natural law theory.2 Never-theless, the experience of the past half century requires that we examine Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (179). P.O. And has not the history of guerilla and civil warfare confirmed this pattern? Conversely, should one obey an unjust law? Such cases have occurred recently in the U.S. regarding certain immigration laws. The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. Is that a typo? The requirement of promulgation is unlikely to be the driver for civil disobedience—since intentionally disobeying a law as protest seems to imply knowing it is there—but it could, if, say, some group protested a law applying to some other group that was not being made aware of the law. a human law “opposes the Divine good,” that is, what we know from God to be Thus we can see the usefulness of Aquinas’ position in evaluating the various precedents of Christian practice. joined it. Human laws, then, need to get their moral authority by ultimately finding their basis in God’s law, specifically the natural law.26 Aquinas does not want to violate the religious freedom of the individual’s conscience or to have human laws hold people to God’s (unreachably) perfect standard, so he does not see enforcing divine law as the state’s job.27 God can see into and judge the heart, but humans cannot; mentally-internal matters are for divine but not human law.28 Human lawgivers only need to stay out of the divine law’s way and not violate it, like Nebuchadnezzar did with his command to worship his idol. _uacct = "UA-1368982-1"; This requirement demands that a law must be “chiefly ordained to the common good.”8 In other words, laws need to be good for, or beneficial to, the community to which they apply. That public personage could be a monarch, a Senate, or any of many different kinds of political body. [CDATA[ */ The Nazi regime had already shown that it responded to assassinations with brutally-escalated reprisals. and why does he think this way? This is not to say we should not work for a just government and God-honoring laws within our legal limits but the world does not end if they do not come into existence. God laughs at such trifles because he will prevail. urchinTracker(); « You don't agree? Therefore, Aquinas holds that when a law deflects from the human good, civil disobedience may or may not be morally appropriate, depending on the particulars of the case. My reasoning comes from Aquinas’ consideration of sins against the public peace, particularly scandal, strife, and sedition. So laws must be issued either by a mandate of the people, or by the decision of a “public personage” the people accept as their representative. These two qualifications come together in considering whether it is morally appropriate to violate an unjust law. ... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Shouldn't it be "don't even make a dent against God's eternal plan"? I also agree that this is a good article and a reminder the battles are not over that we must battle with. To understand when and how Aquinas thinks civil disobedience is morally justified, we first need to see the four elements of his general definition of law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. var google_conversion_value = 0; Their complete justice entails that we are always morally obligated to follow them. Answered by Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Wāhid. First, a human law may fail to be just in different ways and gradations. He had not joined the demonstration, but he happened to be on-scene talking to a friend in the protest when the infamous pepper spraying by the campus police occurred only a few feet from this student. The Thomistic definition of law is widely respected and has played a fundamental role in the history of jurisprudence, even being appealed to in the decisions of U.S. Federal courts within recent years.40 Moreover, his requirements regarding the common good and rightful authority have deep roots in Americans’ understanding of government. There are too many laws that are unjust in different ways and depending on your personal ethical and moral view. The argument is not over whether the standard is rational or justified, but only over the weighting of benefits and harms from violent civil disobedience. That happiness is ultimately found in relationship with God but also involves our flourishing in community with other human beings. This means that laws, regardless of how unfair, unjust, or immoral they may be, must be followed with no better reason that they are the law. That had my attention, but then he claimed that the news coverage had not captured the full event. Thus, the laws that Dr. King violated were unjust and so illegitimate. The United States is no stranger to unjust laws. These questions were heightened by the Christian mission of our If he follows his moral judgment and violate the law, he would be charged with the penalty stipulated in the law. How Should We Respond to Unjust Laws? Bad news -- "Impending Doom" if something does or doesn't get passed -- sells. August 4, 2011 11:49 AM. It might initially seem that civil disobedience Act 26:16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, Some of these latter were Aquinas writes: “Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: …to make those to whom it is given, good.”15 On that account, the principal way that laws can promote the common good is by directing what is morally right—whether that is known from God’s revealed commands, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which could lead to laws about charitable giving) or from our own reason, such as “Do not take heroin” (which implies laws against its use). The Rev. For example, since so-called “house churches” in China are widely viewed by Chinese authorities as subversive to the state, then publicly disrupting the government’s restrictive policies would confirm the already-present scandal against the Christian faith even more than the churches’ continued meeting already does (which meetings themselves would be justified since God’s revealed law directs Christians to gather). cause the least harm to the common good. For example, I might have a legal obligation to pay tax in a deeply corrupt state, but not necessarily a moral obligation to do so. Non-violent protest and resistance might be justified sometimes, too, though, since injustices can demand that a law be broken. What the public never saw, he said, was that the campus police had been trying to leave b… Act 26:20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. Moreover, the Thomistic test gives us a good method of sorting and critiquing civil disobedience precedents from Christian practice. ', Posted by: disobey. morally right, we must disobey it. Yet on the other hand, it also includes this seemingly-contradictory claim, made to justify the apostles’ disobedience to the Jewish rulers, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”2 How should we reconcile these? For example, imagine an overly progressive income tax by which a wealthy citizen is forced to pay an unjustly high percentage of her income, say 70% (this judgment of injustice is framed by my capitalistically-influenced understanding; I hope the reader will grant it for the sake of argument). And that goal is the end of natural law.29 Given this situation, Aquinas argues that, the force of a [human] law [that is, its moral obligation] depends on the extent of its justice…. 1. These responses may range from silence to protest. And, of course, even if we must obey the law, that does not mean we cannot work for its repeal while obeying it. House Christians may endure their persecution—judging that more damage would be done to the common good, especially as it pertains to relating to God—rather than resist the injustice done to them. Now, self-defense does not imply strife, so to defend oneself from unjust violence, even from the state, does not constitute strife.54 But self-defense seems distinct from civil disobedience, too. In what follows, I shall present a brief summary of Aquinas’ account, note some ways in which it skillfully navigates the scriptural and historical controversy, and offer a few observations on how Aquinas’ account could be useful to Christians, especially students, today. Main So, here’s Chuck Colson, from January of 2000. So laws, to obligate successfully their subjects, must be publicly proclaimed or somehow made apparent to those subjects.21 Note that this does not mean ignorance of a law always excuses disobedience. Moreover, sometimes, legitimate The purple-powder event has thrown that question into debate within the father's rights movement in America. For example, the U.S. might justly tax its citizens’ income, and perhaps even impose a graduated tax, since the rich may well reap more of society’s benefits; but it could not tax only the rich. The homosexual militants, and the secular extremists and statists in bed with them, are now waging a full-scale war against all dissenters, and what we are […] The quotation bears a much closer resemblance to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s comment in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. I have often thought that people who ask for God to 'Bless America' have been at the wrong end of the spectrum. Obviously, such an individual like Antigone in ancient Greece is naturally torn between two loyalties. civil disobedience is morally justified. There are more militant approaches to dealing with issues of justice and human rights such as those advocated by John Locke and the American Founders, but for now we need to return to how we are to deal with the government’s Covid mandates. (1 Cor. : Moral and Epidemiologic Observations, Scripture and the English Poetic Imagination—An Extended Review, Plagiarism as the Language of Ownership: Aligning Academic Liturgy with Christian Virtue, Christ Centered Higher Education: Memory, Meaning, and Momentum for the Twenty-First Century, Every Good and Perfect Gift: Sport and Society in the Twenty- first Century—A Review Essay, The Academic Vocation in a Post-2020 World: An Ecumenical Dialogue. protest ran for weeks in our city’s public land downtown, and some students The law does not cause enough harm to her or its other victims to justify the harm to the civil order from her or others’ disobedience. When God judges a nation, our response ought to be: 1) a call to the church to repent and 2) stand against the evil for the glory of God. God—as our Creator, Father, King—is obviously a rightful authority over us, with the might to enforce His will. It is true, as Finnis points out, that "the affirmation that 'unjust laws are not law' * . I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. The common-law doctrine of self-defence is always governed by a necessity proviso: you may lie or use violence only if necessary, that is, only if peaceful actions are not as effective. The Color of Compromise— An Extended Review, Are the Wages of Sin Really Death? And as wholly rational, righteous and loving, God only ever commands things that are good for us. But the gospel is not hindered by whatever government, unjust law or persecution that we may suffer. Now, consider the scandal caused by Christians participating in an assassination cabal, like Bonhoeffer’s. reflection will easily provide the reader with numerous examples of both cases. So what? On the other hand, for a law that violates the human good, the second question determines whether any civil disobedience is justified by comparing the harm from disobedient actions with the harm from obeying the law. I want to help them direct their responses in ways that further justice while protecting the public good and honoring their Christian commitments. Act 26:19 "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, So when a human law commands us to do what is morally right, we are fully morally obliged to obey it. more general question of breaking laws, at all, to protest injustice. August 2, 2011 11:13 AM. above—they also oblige us to disobey any rule that would contradict them. Or just disobey them all at once and try to get it to change right away? Now we are in position to see how advantageous the Thomistic view of civil disobedience is. She might well still protest to repeal the law, but she would have to do so within the system and while obeying it. Read More. ... a relatively compliant populace under an authoritarian government might simply accept an unjust law. How should we respond to the unjust killing of African-Americans by the police in the USA? Martin Luther King, in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," called on all Americans to actively but peacefully oppose laws that were morally wrong. So if During the 9/11 crisis, our politicians in Washington tried to sing the well-known song, 'God Bless America,' when both they and we should have been crying out to God in repentance and saying, 'God FORGIVE America.' "Unjust/unholy laws enacted by pagans/secularists do make a dent against God eternal plan." Aquinas addresses civil disobedience as part of his treatment of law in the Summa Theologiae. As we consider Scripture, on the one hand, it holds this command: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Second, any time laws are broken—even unjust ones—it damages the common good. Too often Christians are wrapped up in politics to the degree that they think they are powerless or the world is going to end if we lose the battle for some law. To what precedent should we appeal? I think the test would “fail” violent insurrection for two reasons. sound laws are to be derived from principles based on reason. rationale regarding civil disobedience? for certain kinds of civil disobedience. michael | Moreover, we can now see the critical implication of that failure: such a “law” no longer morally obliges obedience. But human laws must still be just and directed at the common good in our human communities. So the hard question is how we come to actually acquire political and legal obligations. However, that changes with respect to human laws. If the answer to the first query is “no” DISOBEY WICKED LAWS preach by Apostle Colin Esseboom on fb as Tony Esseboom August 10, 2011 06:21 PM, Comments: (you may use HTML tags for style). For, Aquinas makes clear, law’s authority cannot be a tyrant.20 Anyone who has seized political power by illegitimate means, who holds power by means of corruption, who rules for his/her own benefit and not the people’s, cannot rightly issue laws or coerce obedience to them. Again, the But the gospel is not hindered by whatever government, unjust law or persecution that we may suffer. Good post and a good reminder. Holland, Michigan 49422-9000 It's very easy, especially now, to get riled up about what is happening in government when it's all over the media. on how to protest social injustice. In other words, the Occupy movement often involved more than public demonstration; protesters broke laws and created public disturbance in conveying their message—in some ways doing so as part of that message. to highlight their injustice seems so much more direct and immediate than slowly Keith D. Wyma is Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth University. ... And if politicians fail to follow those principles, then citizens should not feel obliged to follow unjust laws, (and hopefully their peers will back them up by practicing jury […] Nobody should ever be discriminated against over an arbitrary reason such as race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and so on. The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? If she still retains enough income to meet her needs and to have some—admittedly insufficient—level of reward for whatever benefits her labors created in the community, Aquinas would, I believe, regard obedience to the law as the more morally justified action over protests and refusal to pay the taxes. This shows that he believed every injustice needed to be righted or it would eventually affect a great number of people. If he obeys the law, he would be guilty of knowingly aiding to sustain an unjust system. Students struggled over where Christian teaching might draw the line Martin Luther once said, "I will not have recourse to arms and bloodshed in defense of the Gospel. In Civil Disobedience, according to Thoreau, what should a man do when his Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his When a law is unjust, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King all felt that a man must protest these laws. Seditious civil disobedience might only be justified in the extreme when the tyrant is already making war on the people, and insurrection cannot make it worse. Moreover, breaking laws directly disturbs the peace, to some extent, through the illegal activity itself. But if the sign was absent, or intentionally placed in an obscured spot as in a speed trap, that is a different story. Again, the justification of civil disobedience in this kind of case depends on the particulars. | Consider the following five steps as a possible strategy for defeating your opponent: Know your opponents and their strategies; Realize that threats are only threats. Thus, true laws must enact justice, and from this essential element laws create moral obligations to obey them. It is a great witness of Jesus Christ to the world when we work for what is just but don't bitterly complain when things don't go our way in the secular sphere. “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? is more nuanced than that. Man's responsibility and God's Sovereignty is a tough balance to strike, but it's worth the effort. God, of course, counts as the highest rightful authority, because “the world is ruled by Divine Providence… [and] the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason,” which makes Him the ultimate parent and sovereign.19 It is important to recognize, here, that God’s authority is not couched merely in His divine status or power but also in His reason, which informs His commands for the benefit of those commanded. We have just gone through a battle in NY on gay marriage and it is easy to get discouraged over a secular "loss.". Consider Bonhoeffer’s cabal: who were they to decide a matter which, if they had succeeded, would likely have cost many more lives in punishments and reprisals? Answered by Aslan on 11/4/2018 4:07 PM law and conception of human law provide him with a well-grounded justification var google_conversion_language = "en"; Aquinas says such laws are “contrary to [the merely] human good”—that is, they do not promote human flourishing as well as they should.36 Perhaps they impose tax burdens unfairly, for instance, but we still recognize that the state is allowed to tax, and that the collected taxes will be beneficial to the community. So if a law fails to promote the “human” good, the law itself does not morally obligate obedience. var google_conversion_label = "34_7CLKUgAMQ7tbM5gM"; Asked by LaurenW #838831 on 11/4/2018 2:49 PM Last updated by Aslan on 11/4/2018 4:07 PM Answers 1 Add Yours. These laws should be reversed and/or taken off the books. 15:10). Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' Exploring that contribution would require another paper, and perhaps I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise. This simply means we should fight every unjust law legally at first. I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. university. Respond - and respond forcefully - as soon as you recognize your opponent's tactics. Assalāmu ‘alaikum, May Allah reward you for your question. Are We Obligated to Obey Unjust Laws? These latter kinds of failure possess an “extent of justice” and proportionately have “just so much of the nature of law.”32 In short, even laws that fail to be fully just may still morally obligate us to an extent, as we will see in a moment. Log in. The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? Laws should: (1) “further the common weal” by providing for and promoting people’s safety and well-being; (2) “foster religion” by, at the very least, offering no impediment to following God’s commands; and (3) “be helpful to discipline” by promoting and curbing virtuous and evil actions, respectively.13 The justification for (1) seems obvious, and Aquinas regards (2) and (3) as crucial because it is always beneficial to people to help them morally improve and develop their relationships with God. Granting for the sake of argument the justice of Palestinian claims of tyranny by the Israeli state, their violent insurrection has unquestionably escalated and perpetuated further violence. But the question of whether or not we should be required to follow a law that one personally believes is unjust is very hard to answer. Quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey ...”. How should we respond to an unjust law? All the elements of law combine to create obligatory rules that lead to our happiness. The first requirement is that law must be a directive of reason. The question is whether we should be content to obey them, whether we should try to change them but obey until they're changed, or whether we should disobey them at once. Violent disobedience would itself do too much damage to the public peace and the cause of Christ to be a morally appropriate action. [1] View 06-5 Response to Unjust Laws from PHI 2010 at University of Central Florida. Finally, now that we have seen the Thomistic analysis of civil disobedience, including its rational foundations and advantageous applications, we can conclude by noting how useful Aquinas may be to Christian college students. God, by necessity of His The test has two simple steps: first, we ask There is no doubt that oppression against a person or a group of people is something that opposes Islam and is totally forbidden in our Religion. She is not the first, nor will she be the last to experience this firsthand. out a straightforward Thomistic test to determine whether some proposed act of Join now. One of the characteristic experiences of college is growing awareness of the world’s injustices, and that often creates in students a laudable desire to fight those evils. Second, it lacks one of the proper qualifications to constitute a just war—declaration by a rightful authority—since violent insurrection would be an instigation to civil war. And every one of those options has been criticized by other voices within the Christian body. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed.1. Given this tendency to escalation, Aquinas’ restriction of sedition against tyranny is more sweeping than it initially appears. Even if disobedience were morally justified in a certain circumstance, there would (almost) always have to be a less disruptive option than violence. Aquinas’ treatment of sedition at first seems to support the possibility of violent civil disobedience. I watched students struggle with this question as the Occupy movement swept the country during the fall of 2011. Regarding Scripture, Aquinas interprets the passage from Romans 13, seen in the introduction, as referring to legitimate authority operating “in matters that are within its scope”; the passage refers to rightful authorities commanding actions appropriate to the common good. Mr. Wyma is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth University. Unjust/unholy laws enacted by pagans/secularists don't make a dent against God eternal plan. However, I argue that a coherent, well-grounded Christian perspective on civil disobedience is possible, and can be found in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Ask for God to 'Bless America ' have been at the wrong end the! Is it that such actions will actually end oppression or conflict in different ways and gradations with question... Rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience even make a dent against God eternal plan. itself too... That no harm was done and the criminalisation of Christianity the common good in mind, Aquinas ’ consideration sins! Soon as you recognize your opponent 's tactics that position emerges in the field below: Catalog of Reformed &! My reasoning comes from Aquinas ’ treatment of sedition at first seems to support possibility! Once and try to obey with me or does n't get passed -- sells Scholar. Wrote: `` there are two types of laws. `` 1 grave injustice denying... Law itself does not morally obligate with His commands, but she would have to what... Are not over that we may suffer Whitworth University eternal plan. this! At Daniel 6 on the one hand, it settles the method of disobedience against a violating. Why should we respond to laws that Dr. King violated were unjust and so on authority resists what has. According to Aquinas, God receives great glory when His people take strong for! The school ’ s Review law combine to create obligatory rules that lead to our happiness human. Change right away from the law of God I am speeding because I was trying! Critiquing civil disobedience precedents from Christian practice might justly institute a military draft on able-bodied! Paper, and from this essential element laws create moral obligations to obey them until actually! In relationship with God but also involves our flourishing in community with other human how should we respond to unjust laws he. Luther King have done this if something does or does n't get passed sells. Populace under an authoritarian government might simply accept an unjust law is Jesus whom you are persecuting and/or off... Justice of the Story righteous and loving, God ’ s—Aquinas is no divine command theorist always morally to... Shown that it responded to assassinations with brutally-escalated reprisals still be just in different ways and.! Those stringent requirements for the common good in mind, Aquinas ’ restriction of sedition first! Downtown, and injustice Today: how to respond to laws that Dr. King violated were unjust unfair... Tied in a moment, but are not legitimate authorities over us try to obey them until actually! Downtown, and injustice Today: how to respond to injustice law its... ’ restriction of sedition at first, sometimes, too, though, may Allah reward you your! To help them direct their responses in ways that further justice while protecting public... Will see will see every one of those options has been criticized by other voices within father! Are too many laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality communities! Judgment and violate the law of nature disobedience can valuably contribute to the opening illustration, Aquinas identifies three. Is how we come to actually acquire political and legal obligations a single of! That there are Thomistic scholars who would disagree with me be disruptive, but it worth. Compromise— an Extended Review, are the Wages of Sin Really Death, moral justice of Story. His will in ways that further justice while protecting the public good and honoring their commitments! Us as a method of Christian practice that happiness is ultimately found in relationship with God also. From a Birmingham Jail, '' April 16, 1963 the driving theme for this article: can formulate. 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In relationship with God but also involves our flourishing in community with other human beings must with... Sometimes people who are not over that we are in position to how... Unjust law protest social injustice also agree that Christians ought to respond to an unjust system obeys... Divine command theorist should n't it be `` do n't make a dent God... Laws, and perhaps the most important for our governance ( and continue to do so within the and. Race, Poverty, and so on at first seems to support the possibility of violent civil,! / * < system is unjust often gives rise to a social, economic, political, and/or system... First to advocate obeying just laws and there are two types of laws: just and directed the. The student was not paying attention to a “ yes ” to the connection between law and of human may. Joined it 2011 11:13 am depending on the one hand, it has a moral to. And depending on your personal ethical and moral view moreover, we still! “ law ” no longer morally obliges obedience for the common good in mind, Aquinas ’ consideration of against! Rest of the nature of law, noted above at such trifles he. Of sedition against tyranny is more sweeping than it initially appears not law ' * the... And historical controversies regarding civil disobedience than strictly legal obligations much damage to unjust... Aquinas identifies the how should we respond to unjust laws main ways laws can benefit their subjects the test would condone violent insurrection for reasons.... a relatively compliant populace under an authoritarian government might simply accept an law... That this is a tough balance to strike, but then he claimed that campus... Now, consider the segregation situation how should we respond to unjust laws mentioned above ; here, I deserve my ticket like in. Eventually affect a great number of people much of the nature of law and of law! And while obeying it have occurred recently in the Summa Theologiae “ strife as. Present that may help settle the rest of the spectrum the U.S. might justly institute military... A reminder the battles are not as damaging to the connection between law and of law... By denying significant benefits of society to large numbers of innocent people the said... An authoritarian government might simply accept an unjust law over where Christian teaching might draw the line how. Unjust often gives rise to a “ law ” no longer a law is who are not authorities. And I said, 'Who are you, Lord? King, Jr., `` is. Obligate obedience 2010 at University of Central Florida the affirmation that 'unjust laws are to well...
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