The secularization of Martin Luther King Jr.
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington earlier this month, the faithful met to worship the Almighty and discuss the latest battles for religious liberty in an increasingly secular culture.
When the Knights of Columbus’ Supreme Knight Carl Anderson spoke, he made a startling observation about the capital’s new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. monument: Even though Dr. King was a Baptist minister and his history-altering speeches about civil liberties are saturated with references to natural rights and profound theological constructs, none of the 14 quotes carefully etched into his stone monument contain references to God.
Mr. Anderson mocked those in authority who were given the difficult task of carefully combing through Rev. King’s archives to find a few secular quotations.
In Dr. King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is full of religious references, he relied on the Catholic natural law tradition by citing Saint Augustine of Hippo, who said in “On Free Choice of the Will” that “an unjust law is no law at all.” King went on to proclaim he and his peaceful supporters were “in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
There is no question about Rev. King’s adherence to scripture, and it was his fidelity to religious principles which lead him to a higher calling on this earth. Instead of excusing injustice, King fought oppression and inequality. And while he is no longer with us, his ability to look evil in the face and defend the inherent rights of all men is a model which all true Christians must follow.
So, since Rev. King and religion are inseparable, why are some people so quick to hide Dr. King’s religiosity? We would expect this type of careful ideological manipulation of history in the tyrannical states of the former Soviet Union or North Korea, but how does this happen in America?
Sadly, I believe this is another example of how the secular left is winning the culture war. By driving religion out of the public square and re-writing the history books, they are erasing the invaluable role religion has played in our country’s history.
As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Once abolish the God, and the Government becomes the God.” And ironically, by eliminating religion, the secular left is using the force of law to build its own type of warped, unholy church which is highly dogmatic and mandates participation under the threat of force.
Two generations have passed since the Great Society programs of the 1960s chipped away at the traditional family, setting government dependency where social ties and the empowerment of the market once stood. And now, with the Obama administration’s openly hostile approach to religion, we have a government forcing members of religious institutions to participate in acts that violate their consciences, such as providing contraception and abortion services. All churches in Obama’s America are subservient to the whims of government bureaucrats, who are exercising power far outside the limits of our Constitution.
It was his Christian religion that animated and informed Dr. King. If he were alive today, he would not approve of efforts to change the core of his moral message, nor would he accept the secular forces which have reshaped his image for political reasons.
Ken Blackwell, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.