Here and there

An interesting question was raised on the St. Paul Issues Forum on Monday. It’s worth considering.

It’s the last night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Demonstrators gathered to protest those in power, but they didn’t have a permit. Up to that point, they had broken no law. But when they didn’t disperse, they were rounded up.

In Tehran, demonstrators opposed to those in power protested — apparently peaceably — in the street. When they didn’t disperse, they were rounded up.

“What we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the incredible demonstrations that we’ve seen is a testimony to, I think, the — what Dr. King called the ‘the arc of the moral universe.’ It’s long but it bends towards justice,” President Obama said this week.

Clearly, there’s a difference in the level of violence between authorities and demonstrators. But on the fundamental question of whether protesters — if peaceful — should be allowed to take to the streets against a government, is there a difference?