Quantcast

«

»

Feb 04 2012

MLK Jr. on Prayer in Schools

There has been a furious effort by the Christian right in recent years to turn Martin Luther King, Jr. into one of them, in the same manner that they have tried so hard to make the Founding Fathers into mirror images of themselves. But as Rob Boston points out, King did not join them in condemning the Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory prayer in schools:

King supported the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down government-sponsored prayer in public schools. In a January 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, King was asked about one of those rulings. He not only backed what the court did, he noted that his frequent nemesis, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, stood on the other side.

“I endorse it. I think it was correct,” King said. “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.”

Boston also notes that King was in favor of greater access to birth control (remember, he lived at a time when some states still made it illegal to buy, sell or use birth control) and was a strong progressive when it came to economics, health care, and poverty and was, of course, a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War.

19 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Phillip IV

    There has been a furious effort by the Christian right in recent years to turn Martin Luther King, Jr. into one of them

    You could call it ‘whitewashing’. Of course they’re lucky if the Mormons didn’t get to his corpse first, making him one of them, instead. But I can imagine the Christian right argument: “He really agreed with us on practically every issue…on which he wasn’t a n***** f**.”

  2. 2
    iknklast

    I’ve noticed the attempt on the right to claim MLK (which caught me off guard after decades of hearing him vilified) has led into some truly weird territory. On MLK day in our town, one of the local veteran’s affairs leaders gave a speech in which he insisted MLK would have been in favor of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

  3. 3
    Ernst Hot

    Of course they’re lucky if the Mormons didn’t get to his corpse first, making him one of them, instead.

    Actually, why don’t we start de-baptizing mormons? And why wait until they die?

    </offtopic>

  4. 4
    Michael Heath

    Ed reports:

    There has been a furious effort by the Christian right in recent years to turn Martin Luther King, Jr. into one of them, in the same manner that they have tried so hard to make the Founding Fathers into mirror images of themselves.

    As a second generation German-American, I’m not shocked conservative Christians are taking this tack. Primarily because so many older German-Americans I know personally, who all happen to be conservative Christians, are aggressive about noting how they were never a Nazi supporter. A kind of reverse ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, that’s given the fact they demonstrate the very beliefs and approach to thinking which authoritarians require from a segment of the populace in order to take over governments and persecute the ‘out groups’. Many are oblivious in spite of my noticing this by the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, grades which back then spent quite a bit of time on WWII history.

    A couple of these people repeatedly read books about genuine Christian heros who helped others during WWII, in direct opposition of Nazi interests. I think this seemingly obsessive behavior is motivated by the the conflict of not wanting to be associated with the universally condemned principles supportive of committing themselves to those very principles and promoting them here in the U.S. (in a diluted, somewhat more benign version of course). It was this fascist attitude where even as a young kid I wanted nothing to do with Germany, I was an American. What I was taught in the churches vs. the public school was no competition.

    As an adult I’ve since traveled to Germany on business and learned the people that stayed predominately confronted their country’s history and have successfully adapted [Austria not so much.] That the behavior by German-Americans was different than today’s Germans, I think because the German-Americans were able to deny/avoid confronting their own complicity and the institutions’ to which they still support, like their fundamentalist religious beliefs coupled to a conservative/fascist political ideology. Which is why they have become such strong political allies to southern conservative Christians.

  5. 5
    reverendrodney

    The more I read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the more I respect him. I remember when screech-mongering conservatives were calling him a communist and other assorted names, just as today they are calling President Obama a Muslim.

  6. 6
    Aquaria

    It’s funny how they do that, because MLK definitely had some tart things to say about his fellow christers in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

    But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

    When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

    In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

    I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

  7. 7
    Aquaria

    Funny, when I read this, it sounds like something that could apply to the behavior of so many churches and ministers to the gay movement today.

  8. 8
    Aquaria

    Boston also notes that King was in favor of greater access to birth control (remember, he lived at a time when some states still made it illegal to buy, sell or use birth control) and was a strong progressive when it came to economics, health care, and poverty and was, of course, a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War.

    Anyone else ever notice that MLK fell out of the spotlight after the Civil Rights & Voting Rights Acts were passed?

    Of course, even the most cursory study of his life reveals that it wasn’t simply because he had achieved his goal, but because he had started taking some very unpopular stands. There was the Vietnam War stance, yes, but, when he was murdered, he was in Memphis to support and bring awareness to the city’s striking sanitation workers, which was rife with racist policies and abuses.

    There was a reason J Edgar Hoover hated MLK so, and had COINTELPRO hanging on King’s every word and action, private or public.

  9. 9
    robertbaden

    The reason the white establishment makes such a big deal of MLK these days is that he is dead and cannot defend himself from efforts to misuse him.

  10. 10
    parasiteboy

    From Aquaria@6 and MLK “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

    white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

    As true today as it has been throughout history.

  11. 11
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    It would be nice if the social conservatives who are trying to whitewash MLK would look into what he was organizing in the months before he was assassinated. That is right, union organizing and a poor people’s march. He was in Memphis in order to help unionize black garbage collector. And he was organizing a multiracial march on Washington DC.

    MLK and the social conservatives might all be christians but they have very different goals. And the social conservatives are dishonest enough to ignore this.

  12. 12
    equisetum

    Actually, why don’t we start de-baptizing mormons? And why wait until they die?

    Bill Maher can show you how.

  13. 13
    Tualha

    How gravelling it must have been to “Brother Wallace” for MLK to refer to him that way :)

  14. 14
    scotlyn

    The current sustained right-wing attack on Planned Parenthood is partly based on endless reiterations of the “Margaret Sanger (and by extension Planned Parenthood) kills black babies” meme (see, we right-wingers can oppose racism, too, so there!).

    Although it is true that Margaret Sanger was an unquestioning supporter of some of the eugenics theories so popular in her day, her campaign to legalise contraception stemmed from her abhorrence of the dangers of abortion, which she had seen first hand in her nursing practice. Martin Luther King Jr, who thought very very deeply on the connections between things, certainly cannot have regarded her as a genocidal racist when he wrote the following words to be read out by his wife in acceptance of the Planned Parenthood Margarent Sanger Award in 1966.

    “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist — a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified her actions.”

    and before reading her husband’s acceptance speech, Coretta Scott King said this on her own behalf:

    “I am proud tonight to say a word in behalf of your mentor, and the person who symbolizes the ideas of this organization, Margaret Sanger. Because of her dedication, her deep convictions, and for her suffering for what she believed in, I would like to say that I am proud to be a woman tonight.”

  15. 15
    Alecthar

    As an adult I’ve since traveled to Germany on business and learned the people that stayed predominately confronted their country’s history and have successfully adapted [Austria not so much.] That the behavior by German-Americans was different than today’s Germans, I think because the German-Americans were able to deny/avoid confronting their own complicity and the institutions’ to which they still support, like their fundamentalist religious beliefs coupled to a conservative/fascist political ideology. Which is why they have become such strong political allies to southern conservative Christians.

    I currently live in Germany, and have had much the same experience. The “exceptionalist” belief that seems almost required to hold public office in America today would be viewed with intense suspicion here, if not outright hostility. The only time I can remember any explicit nationalism on the part of a large portion of Germans is during their World Cup stints. The flags come out for the football team, then go back in when it’s over.

  16. 16
    scotlyn

    The only time I can remember any explicit nationalism on the part of a large portion of Germans is during their World Cup stints. The flags come out for the football team, then go back in when it’s over.

    Well that sounds like a solution! Get the US a better soccer team, then they won’t need to wave the flag for all the crazy stuff.

  17. 17
    Erp

    I should point out that fascism and enforced eugenics in pre-WWII US was by no means limited to German-Americans. Eugenics laws allowing forcible sterilization and anti-miscegenation laws were on the books of most states (some of the former lasting well into the 1970s). North Carolina is currently considering compensation for the still living victims of the 7,600 it sterilized between 1929 and 1974. As for fascism, plenty of Americans admired Hitler and Mussolini prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

  18. 18
    Raging Bee

    “[T]he anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.” I gotta remember that phrase.

  19. 19
    jeevmon

    Jesse Taylor on Pandagon recently outlined two different versions of MLK, Jr. in popular discourse. The first is Disney King, who, of course, dreamed of a world in which people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This is the one who would have made common cause with Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, and who is the favored King of the ideological heirs of the people who vociferously fought against racial integration and tarred King as a Communist out to destroy the purity of White America.

    The actual King, the anti-war activist, the labor union advocate, the one who wanted a minimum national income, that guy is a lot more problematic for conservatives. So they pretend he never existed and that King was assassinated in Memphis, where he happened to be for no particular reason at all, after giving the “I Have A Dream” speech. It’s seriously bus boycott, I Have A Dream, assassination and that’s all that ever happened.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site