In a radio commentary, Charles W. Colson claimed that Martin Luther King Jr. was a "great conservative" who would have supported the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, convicted Watergate felon and Christian right activist Charles W. Colson portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. as "a great conservative" who would have supported the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. Colson cited as evidence for his assertion only King's notation in his "Letter From Birmingham Jail" of statements from two philosophers popular among Christian conservatives, the Roman Catholic saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. However, King's record of positions on social issues runs counter to that of Colson and the Christian right.
From Colson's January 16 BreakPoint commentary, a syndicated daily program that appears on more than 300 Christian radio stations:
COLSON: Many think of King as a liberal firebrand, waging war on traditional values. Nothing could be further from the truth. King was a great conservative on this central issue [of law and morality], and he stood on the shoulders of Augustine and Aquinas, striving to restore our heritage of justice rooted in the law of God.
Were he alive today, I believe he would be in the vanguard of the pro-life movement and would be supporting Judge Alito. I also believe that he would be horrified at the way in which out-of-control courts have trampled down the moral truths he advocated.
Contrary to Colson's hypothesis that King would be "in the vanguard of the pro-life movement" today, King was presented in 1966 with the Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood. In his acceptance speech, "Family Planning -- A Special And Urgent Concern," King declared, "Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her." Sanger was a leading advocate of women's access to birth control in the first half of the 20th century.
While conservatives such as Colson rail against homosexuality and same-sex marriage -- in a January 6 BreakPoint commentary, Colson called same-sex marriage "inherently wrong" and claimed that it "could lead to things that are even worse," such as legalization of bestiality -- one of King's closest associates, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man. Rustin was the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which King highlighted with his now-famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Homophobia is listed among the "Triple Evils" by the King Center, which was established in 1968 by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, as "the official, living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." Coretta Scott King has spoken in support of same-sex marriage.
Colson and others in the Christian right would likely not agree with King's support for Supreme Court decisions striking down organized prayer in public schools (1962's Engel v. Vitale and 1963's combined ruling of Abingdon School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett). Asked about one of those rulings in a 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, King said: "I endorse it. I think it was correct. 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."
King said he was reassured in his view that the Supreme Court was correct on this issue when then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace denounced it. He told Playboy, "When I saw Brother [George] Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right."
Colson claimed that King would have been "horrified" at "out-of-control courts"; however, King hailed the role federal courts played in supporting the civil rights movement. In his landmark 1957 address, "Give Us The Ballot," King stated, "So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother."
King delivered this speech amid a right-wing campaign to rally support for the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who authored the majority opinion in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Today, the right is still working to undo the Warren Court's legacy.
Colson offered no evidence to support his contention that King would have supported the nomination of Alito, who in a 1985 memo stated his opposition to "Warren Court decisions," including those regarding legislative reapportionment -- presumably a reference to 1962's Baker v. Carr decision, which forms the basis of the principle of one person, one vote -- and who claimed membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that opposed the admission of women and minorities to Princeton University. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which collaborated with King throughout his career and opposes Alito's nomination, has stated that Alito's answers to questions during his nomination hearings "only heightened the NAACP's concerns over the nominee."