By Matthew Bowman
Every January there is a convergence in American society that most people overlook.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day falls on the third Monday of January. Usually that same week, on or around January 22, is the largest recurring public demonstration in American history. It occurs on the same National Mall where King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Around 200,000 gather in this annual March for Life to call for civil rights for preborn human beings, in response to Roe v. Wade.
This year, the convergence is especially significant, because King's civil rights views experienced unprecedented attacks in 2015.
While he was not criticized by name, King's philosophy and political theology suffered intensifying criticism from the progressive movement. The Left's increasing intolerance has been accompanied by a determination to stamp out dissenters, especially religious people.
This led to several clashes clearly challenging King's ideals.
In February 2015, CNN's Chris Cuomo interviewed Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore regarding Moore's disagreement with federal court rulings on same-sex marriage. Cuomo insisted that in America "our rights do not come from God." Cuomo took to twitter to defend his position.
The Declaration of Independence, however, declares that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Martin Luther King, Jr. relied heavily on this principle.
King used this quote from the Declaration to define the American Dream. In a sermon at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church Atlanta in July 1965, King explained that this principle shows "the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible," specifically, by the idea from Genesis that all people are created in God's "image," and that’s why they have equal civil rights.
King espoused the same idea in his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, calling the Declaration a "promissory note" for recognizing the created equality of “all men” (meaning, all human beings). For King, if our rights only come from the government, the government’s withholding of those rights is self-justifying. There can be no civil rights and no universal principle of equality unless our rights come from God.
King's ideals experienced a similar attack during the Kim Davis controversy. Davis peacefully went to jail insisting that she should not be forced to sign or participate in providing same-sex marriage licenses, since Kentucky state law requires religious liberty protections.
In response, a popular internet meme declared that Davis "thinks her religious law should rule over secular laws. So did this guy": framed with a picture of Osama bin Laden. Activist and celebrity George Takei likewise declared that "in our society, we obey civil laws, not religious ones. To suggest otherwise is, simply put, entirely un-American."
This attack would make Martin Luther King, Jr. "entirely un-American," too. In King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he embedded into American civic life a traditional application of Christian theology, declaring that "an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."
Based on this religious premise, King proposed that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." This provided a foundation for peaceful civil disobedience that was central to the civil rights movement. But now, in the name of "civil rights," progressives declare King's view an intolerable public heresy.
Near the end of 2015, King's philosophy was attacked again, this time by the abortion giant Planned Parenthood. In the wake of a lunatic gunman who shot up a clinic in Colorado Springs, Planned Parenthood tried to leverage the incident to attack the free speech of its political opponents.
Planned Parenthood insisted that if you peacefully criticize Planned Parenthood’s activities as killing children, and trading in their parts, you are guilty of "extremist rhetoric" and responsible for violent nutcases. Media members, such as a Planned Parenthood award recipient Jessica Valenti, said calling abortion murder must stop, and praised a court order silencing video evidence of Planned Parenthood's baby part harvesting.
A few days ago, Planned Parenthood sued those videographers under federal racketeering laws that were designed to combat organized crime. The Supreme Court declared ten years ago that such laws apply to Tony Soprano-style profiteering, not to activities pursued for cultural change such as the pro-life or civil rights movement.
Planned Parenthood's attack on free speech is the same kind that King experienced. Like the pro-life movement, King and most of the civil rights movement preached a strictly non-violent philosophy. But more so than the pro-life movement, the civil rights movement included significant organized factions favoring violence.
So when King spoke plainly about the injustice of racism, he was accused of being “an extremist” and fomenting violence. King rebutted this attack, admitting that speaking truth to power is not always pleasant, but explaining that it is necessary: "we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive."
King rejected the idea that because some are violent, he must stop candidly describing injustice: "a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up . . . must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."
The progressive movement finds King’s ideals inconvenient. It has legalized the killing of preborn human beings and redefined marriage. It now campaigns to legally silence criticism as "hate speech" and coerce dissenters to participate.
In doing so, progressives must suppress the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a champion of nonviolently exposing injustice for what it is, of the moral obligation to conscientiously object to laws that violate God's law, and of the fact that universal equality cannot exist unless our rights are rooted in God, including the right to "Life."