Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘I am happy to be the recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award’

Last week, Mark Evanier tweeted, “If Martin Luther King was alive, he would agree with me that it’s shameful when people claim that if he was alive, he’d agree with them.”

The co-optation of King is frequently absurd, but not always. If you’re a pacifist follower of Jesus challenging entrenched power with courageous nonviolent action, then, yes, you get to say you’re following King’s legacy. If you’re a union organizer, a civil rights advocate, a tireless friend of the poor and the powerless, then go ahead and claim that you’re marching in the footsteps of MLK.

But as James W. McCarty III noted last week, King’s legacy can’t be claimed by those he opposed — by those who represent the very things he battled against. Like, for example, the nuclear Global Strike team of the U.S. Air Force:

They have declared that, because of the racial and religious diversity of the Air Force, King “would be proud to see our Global Strike team [part of the US nuclear defense system] … standing side-by-side ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense…”

I’m sure that Martin Luther King Jr. would be pleased to see a commitment to racial and religious diversity in any institution, but that was not his only message for those who wield “the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal” — weapons, McCarty notes, that King wanted to see eradicated.

I’m sorry, but you don’t get to claim the mantle of King’s moral authority while also boasting of the power of your nuclear arsenal. That’s the opposite of what he preached and the opposite of what he pursued.

And I’m sorry, but you don’t get to claim the mantle of King’s moral authority while also fighting affordable access to family planning. That is also the opposite of what King preached and the opposite of what King pursued.

And that makes this post from Christ and Pop Culture just as absurd as the MLK Day press release from the Global Strike team.

“Words are inadequate for me to say how honored I was to be the recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1966. “This award will remain among my most cherished possessions.”

King’s acceptance speech for that award, “Family Planning — A Special and Urgent Concern,” makes it very clear that, no, you may not claim to be an heir to King’s moral vision while fighting against access to contraception as a component of universal health care.

King honored Planned Parenthood as an ally in his struggle for justice on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. And Planned Parenthood honored him, in turn, as an ally in its struggle for justice on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.

If you’re horrified by the prospect of a mandate requiring no co-pays for preventive health care for women, then it’s really, really foolish to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. as an inspiration or an ally. Oppose his legacy if you must, but don’t pretend he’d be happy about it.

 

  • EllieMurasaki

    ‘History is written by the victors’ sounds like ‘the people with the power gaslight everybody else in order to maintain that power’ to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    It’s not even really true.

    Take the contraceptive mandate debate going on right now. A lot of people don’t realize this, but this battle had been fought and lost decades ago. At least 26 states have had contraception mandates for many years, including fairly conservative states like Georgia and Iowa, and in a third of those states the contraception mandates were passed with the support of Republican legislators and governors. 

    As late as 2000, the Bush Administration approved a rule that required employers with more than 15 workers to cover contraception for women if they offered health plans that covered other preventive services. 

    But as soon as Obama rolled out the new regulation,  history was rewritten and Republicans were always at war with contraception. They had lost that war, except they never really started fighting until today, but we’re supposed to think that they always had been… it gives me a headache.

  • Albanaeon

    I’m not sure if this or G. Beck’s trying to usurp Dr. King’s legacy is more obscene.  But I have noticed that there seems to be an ongoing effort to waterdown his efforts.  From civil rights and equality to simply diversity and “FREEEDOM!” (tm.)  Both of which are far more palatable to certain segments of this country.

  • Jessica_R

    From an aesthetic standpoint, I gotta say I think the MLK memorial looks terrible. It’s like the great man has been frozen in Carbonite, not what I think they were going for.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Why is everyone acting surprised by this?

    We are, after all talking about a class of people so base and unself aware as to use the legacy of Yeshua who was called the Christ as a tool to justify wealth, power, greed, self rightous piety, war, condemnation and exploitation of the poor and demonisation of every underclass Yeshua spoke in defense of.

    This is just more of the same. Next, we should see them using Ghandi to push gun rights.

  • SisterCoyote

     If he was fighting for FREEDOM(tm), then he was rightfully an American Hero(tm), and as such, only the villains would stand against him.

    If he was fighting for civil rights and equality, true equality, then, well, there are plenty of people who are still standing against him, and things get a little more complicated than Hero vs Villain. It’s all in the narrative. You need a simple narrative to sell, and “Some of the people who were responsible for setting dogs against the Reverend Dr. King, who is an American Hero, are still in office but they’re totally also good guys,” is a lot more complicated, partly because, barring extraordinary feats of redemption (which, notably, very few people seem to be in for), even the smallest child will have a blaring bullshit-alarm.

    I took a Journalism Ethics course this past semester, and one of the recurring themes in the notes, both stated outright and scrawled in the margins, is the “Don’t Tell Stories. Tell the Truth. Twisting the details to make things fit your narrative is literally lying about people’s lives.”

    People are going over Dr. King’s life with a massive eraser, dulling down the details, lying about what he did, because their narrative requires him to be about FREEDOM, not equality. Once they can place him neatly in the white marble halls of the Founding Fathers, and interpret his message however they like, it’s neatly sterilized and safe.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Well this is just more of the same from completly amoral unprinipled unselfaware craven people. If you can take a man like Yeshua, The Christ and turn him into the standard bearer for War, economic oppresion, demonisation of the poor and objectification of wealth and victimisation of the weak, then what the radical right is doing to Dr. King is just in line with their ecord.

  • MikeJ

    This is just more of the same. Next, we should see them using Ghandi to push gun rights.

    They’ve (I think it was Rush) already said that the marchers in Selma wouldn’t have been beaten had they been armed.  Which is probably true. They would have been shot.

  • SergeantHeretic

    MikeJ, you have said it. I swear the unending unselfaware hypocrasies of the radical right wing are without limit. They also fail Passive ressistance forever. that’s no suprise as none of them possess the courage and self possesion and commitment to cause that passive resistance requires. They’re happy to kill for any reason or no reason but just don’t ask them to DIE for anything.

    Hell, you can’t even get them to agree to a slightly higher taz rate to pay the cost of living here in america, so why in their war-god’s name would they want to DIE for anything or anyone?

  • TomSatsuma

    When I was teaching in Japan, one of my students (a woman in late-middle age) commented that the local town had “too many black people” (a comment as laughable as it is vile, since Japan is largely mono-racial and I suspect you could fit all the black people in that fairly major town on the outskirts of Tokyo into one small car).  Embarrassed for her, and the other students, I tried to move on to the next subject and asked about who people’s heroes were – when the question got round to her she said, without a shred of irony, ‘Martin Luther King’
    [facepalm]

  • Matthias

    Given the fact that the Air Force blessed the nuke against Hiroshima in Jesus name I don’t see why anyone is surprised about this.

  • arcseconds

    I’m inclined to say it’s just equal parts sentimentality, ignorance, and propaganda.

    The global strike force is clearly an All-American Good Thing, and Martin Luther King is an All-American Good Thing, who struggled for, y’know, civil rights and diversity and that, and  the global strike force is diverse, so clearly it’s Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together.

    So let’s write a fuzzy-wuzzy press release to say all that.

  • Carstonio

    Molly Ivins used to say that the right-wingers who genuflect at the mention of the Founding Fathers would have been Tories during the Revolution. I say the same thing about the folks co-opting King’s legacy. Fifty years ago, they might not have openly endorsed segregation, but they would have been that era’s equivalent of concern trolls. The old song and dance of how troublemakers like King are causing racial strife by stirring things up, teaching blacks to hate whites.

  • Carstonio

    No, I think it’s a holdover of a specific type of tokenism that began in the 1970s.  White leaders would pretend to value diversity by invoking King’s name. Their likely goal was to avoid being labeled as racists or to stave off riots. Later, the fake show of solidarity would be contrasting King with current black leaders to discredit the latter, who would be falsely accused of peddling anti-white racism. It’s a common tactic – anti-feminists hijack the history of the suffragettes and early women’s rights leaders, who are conveniently dead, just so they can label modern feminists as man-haters.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Somethin’ to that, switch me if their aint. I hear it myself when I hear modern Feminists compared negativly to the sufferagets and now even to Gloria Steinhem, Flo Kennedy and Helen Gurluley Brlown and Betty Friedan.

    See, what it is is, the far righties and their apologists are turning the heroes of the LEFT into dog whistles.

  • Hexep

    Control the past, and you control the future. The Chinese government spends unfathomable amounts of time, money, and human capital – thousands of hours of television and film every year – aggrandizing their own role in the past, especially in the question of fighting the Japanese in World War 2, and downplaying the role of others. Having failed at their original mandate (socialism etc) and having begun to falter at their second mandate (material prosperity), they strive untiringly to create strong emotions about a historic enemy and appeal to them as a source or authority.

  • Hexep

    It’s been said, take your enemy’s strength and make it into their weakness. That’s why, among many, many other examples of this, Bush attacked Kerry’s record of military service in 2008 – a genuine rebuttal would have seemed petty.

  • SergeantHeretic

    That’s true, but it was in 2004, just sayin’. ANyway, yeah, but now they’re so sloppy and blatant that they just look like craven assholes.

    Of course what they’re doing with Dr. King is hardly new for them. Remember, we ARE talking about people who took a hairy hippy from East Nazareth and turned him into the big hero of power, money, militarism and domination of the disenfranchised.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    I am reposting here the response I posted on my original article. I see that a theme in the comments is that people like me have misappropriated Jesus as a hero of wealth and power. I do not deny that this has happened, and reject it to the extent it has happened. I have not encountered anyone in my own community that denied that God is the champion of the poor, the weak, the downtrodden. Indeed, the program of the Gospel is to turn on its head the world’s conceptions of privilege and place.

    All of this by way of introduction. I find many of the comments here uncharitable, painting with extraordinarily broad strokes the diverse Christian community, especially those who do not share some of your social and political interpretations. I understand the frustration when you see others propagating social injustice or other forms of evil while invoking the name of the Lord we have in common. It is His church and He is not absent.

    With that, here is the comment I made on my own post:

    I thought I was sufficiently circumspect to foreclose this kind of response. For one, I started by acknowledging that I was not squarely within the stream of Rev. King’s legacy. I then pointed out that there is more to the man than his role as an advocate for racial equality, and I tried very hard not to denigrate that role.The fact remains that his Letter from a Birmingham Jail represents a masterful extemporaneous application of Christian natural law philosophy to the problem of unjust laws. My examples – constitutionally unwarranted federal laws and morally dubious contraceptive mandates – were invoked as thought experiments. While I obviously suggested my own answer, I did pose them as questions and I hoped that readers would think about, analogize, distinguish, these examples from the unjust laws that Rev. King was fighting.Slacktivist seems to answer this way: because MLK on other occasions and in different settings supported contraceptive access, or organizations that promoted it, that therefore his philosophy cannot apply to any scheme that also promotes contraceptive access. There are two mistakes here.First is a matter of simple rhetoric. King may have been inconsistent. As much as we admire him, we do not say that he was perfect. He may not have thought through the question of contraceptives and their effect on society, or he may have thought through the question and concluded that the public health benefits outweigh any negative consequences of divorcing sex from procreation. This is a reasonable conclusion.The second follows from the first. Even if Rev. King were in favor of universal access to contraceptives, free, cheap, and easy, does that tell us that he would approve all MEANS of so providing them? What would this Christian minister say about compelling another Christian sect to participate in a scheme it holds is morally repugnant and harmful to society? Is Slacktivist saying that King would conclude that such a coercive act is manifestly just, and therefore there is no grounds for opposing it?The objection to the contraceptive mandate is located there, in compelling Catholic business owners and Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives. Indeed, there would be no free exercise challenge if the government simply purchased the contraceptives and handed them out directly to the employees.Say what you want about the legal challenges, the wisdom of widespread contraceptive use, or Rev. King’s views on sexual politics. I freely admit – and did so originally – that we cannot appropriate this great Civil Rights leader to salve all our political angst. That does not excuse us from confronting the question of the unjustness of laws, a subject on which this Christian philosopher had much to say.I doubt anyone says we should not consider King’s philosophical writings except as they apply to the causes he championed.

  • LoneWolf343

     “Molly Ivins used to say that the right-wingers who genuflect at the
    mention of the Founding Fathers would have been Tories during the
    Revolution.”

    Nice to see that I’m not the only one who has thought this.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

     Worse yet – *white* Carbonite…

  • Jim Holton

    “He may not have thought through the question of contraceptives and their effect on society, or he may have thought through the question and concluded that the public health benefits outweigh any negative consequences of divorcing sex from procreation.”
    Read through his entire thank-you speech, and it will show that (for the first) part that he had absolutely thought this out. “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. As for the second part, that flows from the first, and seems to refute the idea that he had not considered it. I mean, birth control is used during sex, right?

  • Tricksterson

    Which he would, I’m sure,  blamed them for by calling them an armed mob.

  • Carstonio

     

    the question of contraceptives and their
    effect on society…any negative
    consequences of divorcing sex from procreation.

    Would you be more specific? Those appear to involve some questionable assumptions about human nature, but since those terms are so vague it’s difficult to tell. In any case, bans on contraception amount to government overreach into citizens’ personal lives. Griswold v. Connecticut.

  • Lunch Meat

    The objection to the contraceptive mandate is located there, in compelling Catholic business owners and Catholic institutions to provide
    contraceptives.

    I’m sorry, but this is just not correct. Employers do not provide contraceptives to their employees any more than they perform surgery on their employees. What they are being compelled to do is purchase* insurance which is required to have the option of covering contraceptives for their employees.

    If you really believe this is wrong and unjust–regardless of the question of whether the use of contraceptives actually is wrong, since the important thing is that they believe it to be wrong–then do you think business owners who are Jehovah’s Witnesses should not have to purchase insurance that covers blood transfusions? May institutions whose owners are vegan refuse to purchase insurance covering medications made from or tested on animals? Can a business owner who is Jainist refuse to purchase insurance covering chemotherapy or antibiotics (since they are opposed to the destruction of anything living)? Why or why not?

    *Or arrange for the purchase of, since many employees pay some or all of their health insurance premiums and the employer’s role is merely in securing a group discount.

  • Albanaeon

    “The objection to the contraceptive mandate is located there, in
    compelling Catholic business owners and Catholic institutions to provide
    contraceptives.”

    The problem is that it does not mandate that.  You’ve twisted it.  See, the employee BUYS the insurance.  They have every right to do with their money what they want, particularly in private health matters.  So what you’re complaining about is that Catholics can’t enforce their doctrines on their employees.  Which would be the “unjust compelling” you’re complaining about.

    And what negative consequences are you suggesting come from recreational sex?  With proper precautions, the risks are minimal, the recreation is pretty big, and the potential negative consequences tend to be about the same for any close relationship.  So unless you’re talking about the loss of privilege to dictate to others what relationships others can and can’t have, you’ve got nothing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    In no particular order:

    1. If citizens are entitled to enter in to any insurance arrangement they want, then the employer is irrelevant. There is no law or proposal that would give employers power to restrict their employees from buying, possessing, or using contraceptives. I take it you mean that because our laws make employer-provided insurance the most common form of securing prescriptions and medical services, that an employer’s decisions regarding the insurance contract it enters in to on behalf of its employees are de facto coercive. Coercive behavior is always morally wrong, but the constitutional and legal argument here is about state coercion.

    The actual objection to this is that it compels entities to provide or facilitate something they consider evil. I am not even expressing an opinion on whether contraceptives are good or bad. I am a Protestant, after all, so the issue is far less controversial for me. But the unjustness of this law, if there is any, comes not from its general endorsement of contraceptives as a public health policy for the United States (not that public health policy is a federal power, either, but one thing at a time), but from the means by which it implements it. I have not heard any opponent of the mandate express a desire to prohibit employees from the drugs.

    2. Even conceding that practicing Catholics can in good faith determine that facilitating contraceptive provision is immoral, there follows an analysis about when society should have to defer to that practice. Please see my original post, where I explicitly said that claiming “religious freedom” is not carte blanche to ignore laws. That is a difficult question to answer in a society as diverse as ours. But it is a different question from how a morally convicted individual should respond to a repugnant legal command.

    3. That is where the First Amendment challenges are, as a matter of law, located. Challengers say that they have a constitutional right against being forced to violate their religious beliefs as a condition of doing business. Defenders say that laws of general applicability that do not target a specific religion are valid. Both sides have some case law for their argument. As an

    4. The question of whether contraceptives are harmful on society is also one on which I was not expressing an opinion, beyond that I was not foreclosed to both sides of the argument. I take it some of you think it is beyond the scope of human rationality to express concerns about the matter. I happen to think it is a reasonable question to ask, and that it does not make a political community bigoted or insane to wonder about changing the conception of something so fundamental to human life.

    5. You are right that I misspoke. I should not have said that the employers have to provide specific services – it suggests a misunderstanding about the ACA and rules promulgated thereunder. There is an intermediary institution that is the provider of the drugs and medical services. But if I have to buy you a service that will provide for some particular good on your request, it is not dishonest to say that I have to provide you that good.

    6. Finally, I take you at your word that King had a considered view of contraceptive access and that he approved it comprehensively. It still does not follow that he would endorse any and all means of providing it. He was a Christian, after all, and evidently a serious one steeped in the moral philosophy of his tradition. The ends can never justify the means when the means are inherently valuable ends like the legitimacy of the law or the liberty of citizens.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    Also, my comment about what King had or hadn’t thought about the issue is largely irrelevant in light of what you all have said. I offer my apology to Slacktivist if I undervalued him on that score.

  • Antigone10

    I do not deny that this has happened,
    and reject it to the extent it has happened. 

    What?  People have invoked Christ’s name to support things
    opposite of what he has preached, but it hasn’t happened THAT much?  Is
    that what we’re going with?  Because as someone who was raised in
    the Evangelical tradition, if anything people are down-playing how
    much “Christ” is just a placeholder “generic thing meaning good
    and you have to listen to him.”

     I have not encountered anyone in my own community that denied
    that God is the champion of the poor, the weak, the downtrodden. Indeed, the
    program of the Gospel is to turn on its head the world’s conceptions of
    privilege and place.

    And where exactly would you place your community in the kyriarchy
    of privilege, place, and power?

      I find many of the comments here uncharitable, painting
    with extraordinarily broad strokes the diverse Christian community, especially
    those who do not share some of your social and political
    interpretations. 

    Your concern is noted for the record.

    I understand the frustration when you see others propagating social
    injustice or other forms of evil while invoking the name of the Lord we have in
    common. It is His church and He is not absent.

    No you don’t.  I cannot see into your heart, I do not know you in
    person, and it is generally ungracious of someone to tell you your feelings.
     Still, I feel comfortable saying “No you don’t”. Mainly,
    because for a lot of us, it is not a “Lord we have in common”.
     Jesus isn’t my lord.  He’s a philosopher (or a amalgamation of a number of
    figures and philosopher) that has said some things that I agree with, and some
    things I don’t. Others here see him as a savior, a bad philosopher, a symbol
    and yes, Lord.  But he isn’t just one thing to anyone. When his name is used to bless bombs, I find that
    frustrating for not just putting a decent character’s name on a tool of evil,
    but because it is so staggeringly, completely,
    obviously, unambiguously against what he stood for and preached
    against as to make me sigh for the state of humanity.  For their reading
    comprehension, their moral comprehension, and their ability to comprehend
    cognitive dissonance among other things.  

    <blockquoteFor one, I started by acknowledging that I was
    not squarely within the stream of Rev. King’s legacy. I then pointed out that
    there is more to the man than his role as an advocate for racial equality, and
    I tried very hard not to denigrate that role.

    I do appreciate that you did remark that you could not perfectly empathize the
    African-American struggle for equal rights. 
    I applaud that in your blogpost.

    While I obviously suggested my own answer, I did pose them as
    questions and I hoped that readers would think about, analogize, distinguish,
    these examples from the unjust laws that Rev. King was
    fighting.

    .

    Oh, so you were Just Asking Questions.  In case you are unfamiliar with
    that particular internet parlance, here’s a link:  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=JAQing%20off

    To be less snarky, from your post here is what you said: “What would
    Martin Luther King, Jr. say about a government that flippantly legislates
    outside of its defined authority? What would he say about laws that compel
    citizens to commit sinful acts?”

    You place a number of assumptions in your writings that the laws against gun
    control and the laws against discriminating against women would be “flippantly
    legislating outside it’s defined authority” and is “compelling citizens to
    commit sinful acts”.   You are conflating
    two separate questions in order to muddy an issue to come to your
    pre-determined conclusion, using the mantle of a civil rights activist.

    To clarify: MLK Jr’s writing clearly is opposed to an law that compels its citizens
    to commit a sinful act*.  It is also
    clear from his writings that he does not find birth control a sinful act, nor
    did his writings suggest that he would much care about gun control, seeing as
    he was a pacifist.  To ask this question
    in this manner is to ignore his entire body of political work while cheaply
    co-opting his name.

    First…. King may have been inconsistent. As much as we
    admire him, we do not say that he was perfect. He may not have thought through
    the question of contraceptives and their effect on society…

    That is a perfectly true, and if you were responding to an argument that said “We
    should support contraception because King supported contraception” it would be
    relevant.  What you did was say “King
    said this, and he would also be opposed to contraception” despite the fact that
    he was very much in promotion of contraception. 

    The second follows from the first. Even if Rev. King were in
    favor of universal access to contraceptives, free, cheap, and easy, does that
    tell us that he would approve all MEANS of so providing them? 

    No, but you didn’t quote anything to suggest the current means of providing
    them were opposed to his philosophy.

    What would this Christian minister say about
    compelling another Christian sect to participate in a scheme it holds is
    morally repugnant and harmful to society?

    Depends on what that Christian sect found morally repugnant.  Plenty of Christian sects thought that
    segregation was good, just, proper, and godly and King sure didn’t care about
    calling them out.

     Is Slacktivist
    saying that King would conclude that such a coercive act is manifestly just,
    and therefore there is no grounds for opposing it?

    Not speaking for anyone but myself, but I’m saying that the contraception
    mandate is not a coercive act.  I can’t
    speak for King, because I don’t have enough of his writings to make a strong
    parallel. 

    The
    objection to the contraceptive mandate is located there, in compelling Catholic
    business owners and Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives.

    The objection to the contraception mandate is an illogical pile of bullshit, to
    use the technical terms.  Catholic
    business owners do not have the right to discriminate against women, even if they
    think their religion tells them to. 
    Catholic business owners do not have the right to violate medical
    privacy, even if their religion says they do. 
    And Catholic business owners are not providing “contraceptives”- they
    are providing health insurance as part of compensation package.   They have no more right to dictate what
    workers do with that than they can dictate what their workers spend their
    payroll on.

    Indeed, there would be no free
    exercise challenge if the government simply purchased the contraceptives and
    handed them out directly to the employees.

     

    Since this is functionally what the spineless government compromise does, I’m
    going to have to assume you are mininformed.

    That does not excuse us from confronting the question of the
    unjustness of laws, a subject on which this Christian philosopher had much to
    say.

    t

    So have other philosophers, who have also been opposed to contraception.  Why don’t you try using them?

    I doubt anyone says we should not consider King’s
    philosophical writings except as they apply to the causes he championed.

    No one has said that.  What was said here
    is that you shouldn’t use King’s philosophical writings to say the exact
    opposite of the causes he championed.

    *I’m ignoring this in the main comment thread, because it sort of
    breaks up the comment, but to address the first point about “ a government that
    flippantly legislates outside of its defined authority” I don’t think MLK gave
    a damn.  If you have any links to
    writings where he talks about the perfection of the American Constitution (Now
    with the 3/5ths compromise!) I would be interested in seeing it.  But the writing you quoted, Letters from a
    Biringhmam jail, makes it clear that the law is not what he most worried about,
    nor legal definitions of its authority. 
    He cares about as you pointed out, natural law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    The formatting above makes it hard for me to follow some of your post (I see it is fixed – thanks). I did not realize that some here rejected the deity of Christ or His sovereignty over creation, and all the rest. I clearly mischaracterized the audience here. Noted.

    I meant to credit King as an incisive Christian philosopher, and one who adhered not only to Christian orthodoxy (as we Evangelicals usually mean it) but to a long line of Christian thought.

    The thing is, if you believe what King believed, you can’t simply not care when a government steps outside of its authority. Perhaps he had a view closer to that of John Finnis and the newer natural law folks that the effectiveness of a government is basically the index of its legitimacy. In that case, he could say that, the Constitution notwithstanding, the federal government has plenary authority over its territory. (I don’t think Finnis believes this but I don’t know what King thought about the question of political authority.) Or maybe he wants to say that the federal government derives its power from some other source than the Constitution – I’m sure we can come up with examples. But Aquinas, whom he clearly had read, talks about defects in authorship – that is, when the legislator is not authorized to legislate.

    King is taking human law seriously. He spends a good deal of his letter explaining why some positive law is valid and some is not. Even if the Constitution is not perfect (and it isn’t), you can’t make legal arguments within its rubric while denying its authority. I think he was too sophisticated to make such an error.

    The “accommodation” you mention still requires that the employer-provided health insurance cover these drugs. If the government installed a birth-control dispensary on street corners, Catholic employers would 1) have no standing in court and 2) have no free exercise claim that they could raise. I am not misinformed on the legal aspects of the situation.

    The mandate is coercive, but I didn’t mean that in pejorative sense, or at least not in the always-pejorative sense. Any time the government says “You shall,” there is coercion. Speed limits are coercive.

    My point about whether he would approve of the means was only a response to a response. The first response was that he was obviously a supporter of widespread contraceptive access. My point is that the unjustness would not derive from that but from the way in which it is implemented. And here we are back to my original original argument, and I suppose I will have to live with engaging in rhetorical behavior the internet has deemed ridicule-worthy.

    My question is: based on what Dr. King teaches us about morality and law, what should a citizen do if he is convinced a law is unjust? You say — well, King didn’t think these laws were unjust. So perhaps such citizens should study him further for his arguments about what makes a law just or unjust, and that is reasonable. But it isn’t fair to say we can’t apply his teachings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    I propose we leave off the discussion of the substance of the contraceptive mandate challenges.  For one, it’s too similar to what I do every day (fun with the law), and I was using it as an example of a time when a practicing religious community conscientiously believes a law is immoral. The USCCB might be objectively wrong about that, and maybe you think they are just tokens of a privilege white male hierarchy covering for their oppression in the guise of misappropriated religious hogwash. That’s not really a discussion I think we’re going to get very far with, so at risk of being labeled with something else from the Urban Dictionary, I’d prefer to leave it to one side.

  • fredgiblet

    What are you talking about?  We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    As I think about it, I was also writing for a different audience. Our humble corner of Patheos is written for self-identifying evangelicals, so my goal was in part 1) to connect relatively unaffected white people (like me) to King at a different level and 2) to prompt consideration of natural law theory to some current issues.

    I gather that most Protestants reject natural law theory for a combination of historical and theological reasons. So I expected a response like the one Slacktivist has offered – I obviously went through all that caveating and disclaiming to try to soften the blow. I also expected more traditional Protestants to take me to task on the natural law stuff.

    But then again I’m not sure why I imagine very many people read my posts over there. I am grateful for the publicity I got from this much more popular writer!

  • Lunch Meat

    If a religious community conscientiously and sincerely believes a law is immoral, they can refuse to follow it. I think it’s pretty clear King would support that. However, they will suffer consequences from that (as King did). They are free to try to change the law (as King did). A religious community should not lie, bend the truth, or try to bully and intimidate others into changing the law, and they should definitely not use physical force or violence. I also think it’s pretty clear King would have supported that.

    I don’t think any of the above has a bearing on whether a law is good or bad, since “we sincerely believe it’s wrong” can be said about anything. So I’m not quite sure what your point is.

  • Antigone10

    Yep, kids these days and their internet lingo and such like :).

    Note: Sorry about the formatting snafu.  I’d really like a preview button.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    Lunch Meat – see above about the intended audience. I’ve been reflecting lately on how to resolve the tension between free exercise and secular law. I plan to read some of the academic literature on it soon, but right now I am pretty discontent with the state of First Amendment law on the subject.

  • The_L1985

    “I did not realize that some here rejected the deity of Christ or His
    sovereignty over creation, and all the rest. I clearly mischaracterized
    the audience here.”

    I’m assuming that by this you mean that some people here aren’t Christian?  Well, yes.  You don’t have to be a Christian to comment on a Christian blog.  This Wiccan does it all the time. It is a free Internet, after all. :)

    Frankly, I am uncertain as to whether Jesus of Nazareth is a god or not; since he’s not one of my gods, it doesn’t really affect me one way or the other.

    “If the government installed a birth-control dispensary on street
    corners, Catholic employers would 1) have no standing in court and 2)
    have no free exercise claim that they could raise.”

    But as an ex-Catholic, I can assure you that the RCC would raise Cain until those dispensaries were done away with.  There are already a ton of pharmacists who refuse to do their job when the drug they’re supposed to dispense is one that they don’t like and consider “sinful” (specifically, birth-control pills and Plan B).

    I’m still not sure how “insurance has to pay for any birth-control pills an employee chooses to take” in any way equates to “companies have to provide birth control to all their employees, regardless of any of the involved parties’ views on the matter.”  Please clarify this for me, as I take the Pill for a health condition that threatens my quality of life and ability to hold down a job, and don’t much like the idea that other women in my position would be forced to pay money that they can’t all afford for a medication that, for them, is necessary.

  • smrnda

     The understanding is the insurance companies hand them out. What Catholic institutions are doing is demanding that other privately held entities (insurance companies) with their own beliefs and priorities offer a product tailor-made to suit their religions objections. It’s like a Mormon business looking to find a food distributor, and, finding that they all sell alcohol, demanding that they set up special Mormon-friendly warehouses and supply chains that will be untainted with booze. The Catholic church cannot force the insurance companies, who out of worship of Mammon know contraception to be a good thing, to go against their own beliefs. Like the Mormon business, they can either self-insure or can just admit that they’ve probably been funding things ten times more ‘evil’ in their own eyes all along.

    If the argument is that they have to somehow ‘participate’ in a system they disagree with, well, tough s**t, since we all do to a great degree. I’m against locking up non-violent drug offenders, and my tax money goes to do this. We all put up with this, but to me, it’s them trying to get leverage over employees. I view all employers as guilty until proven innocent as far as oppression of workers go, and I don’t think an employer should have a say in what an employee’s health plan covers.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    right now I am pretty discontent with the state of First Amendment law on the subject.

    Just so I’m clear: is your preferred method of resolving the tension between free exercise and secular law one that protects both of our interests equally even if my religion happens to teach that your behavior renders you an abomination in the sight of God?

  • http://gocart-mozart.blogspot.com/ gocart mozart

    I didn’t think much of it based on photos in the media, but last year I saw it in person and thought it was excellant.  The photos, like the one above, don’t do it justice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    L1985 – I had more in mind the “Progressive Christian” label that Patheos assigns. My initial post was to fairly traditional Evangelicals, and my comments here were intended for a less traditional audience, but I did not fully grasp the level of disagreement. I am glad for the correction, as I was mistaken about some rather simple facts. You might be right that Catholic clergy would riot in the streets or the clerical equivalent until such dispensaries were gone. But I doubt any federal court would be hearing their claim.

    smrnda – why can’t the companies freely make contracts with insurers in which the two private parties specify what is covered and what is not? They aren’t demanding that the insurance companies not OFFER it, they are demanding that they not be forced to purchase the insurance coverage that so provides it. You are right that the Court has rejected “taxpayer standing” in almost all cases. The one area where they actually allow it to some degree, though, is in establishment clause cases. So a citizen can object to a cross in a public park, even though there is no discernible harm, under the theory of taxpayer standing. But even then – it isn’t mere paying of taxes on which the companies rely. It is the positive command, “Buy this kind of insurance for your employees.” Your Mormon analogy is a little off. If the food distributor only offered dinner packages that included a beer, the Mormon company should be free to negotiate for dinner packages that came with lemon water (or whatever). If that food provider said they couldn’t accommodate that, the Mormon company should be free to find another food company that does. If they believe it is irreconcilably evil to provide alcohol to their dinner guests/employees(?), then I think we should all have a problem with a law telling them that they must.

    The point is, no one has to “demand” that insurers offer Catholic-friendly plans. They are perfectly capable and willing to offer different coverages and adjust premiums accordingly.

    Of course, alcohol is not birth control. The countervailing public health conclusions are different – I am not trying to equivocate and it wasn’t my example. I absolutely agree with you that the employer has no business in what plan the employee has, which is exactly why the employer shouldn’t be involved in paying for it either. What on earth does my boss have to do with my healthcare arrangement? But if my boss is paying, I wouldn’t quite feel right telling my boss it’s none of his business.

    And if the employer isn’t paying, if the employer is simply deducting the entire premium from the employee paycheck and forwarding it to the insurer, then it hardly seems unreasonable to just have the employee buy his own insurance.

    Dave – My political theory as it stands (it is always in flux) holds that the interests of all citizens are equal and thus in a democracy no perspective can be privileged over another. I thought I was pretty clear that I haven’t come to a conclusion about how to resolve the tension. But I don’t see how your opinion about my abomination standard should somehow diminish your political rights — it would be a different question if you meant you wanted to enact some kind of discriminatory program on the basis of that belief. I don’t think that flat-earthers, Satan worshipers, Freemasons, furries, etc., somehow have a diminished standing before the law simply because of their worldview or specific beliefs. But that can’t translate in to an immunity from generally applicable laws that serve a legitimate public purpose. There is an obvious tension between these two, and perhaps it is my education that has so badly confused me, but I don’t think there’s some kind of easy one-line answer.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You’re still misunderstanding the fundamental nature of the problem.

    You got a moral objection to contraception? Then you can’t use it yourself. You are not, however, permitted to prevent anyone else from using it, unless there is actual harm to you or them from their using it. That is, if you have a latex allergy, you shouldn’t sex someone who insists on using a latex condom, you should insist on a nonlatex condom or on not having sex. Which is about the extent to which that prohibition applies to you if you’re not their doctor, since all the other examples I can think of rely on knowledge of the other person’s medical history.

    You’re also not allowed to prevent your employees from buying peas, porn, or Porsches, regardless of what you think of those decisions. Once they earn that money, it’s theirs. The money you pay towards their health insurance is their money too, since it’s part of the compensation package you and they agreed on. And you do not get to dictate how they use it. Which means you do not get to buy them only health insurance that doesn’t cover things you don’t want them to have access to.

    If you don’t want to be paying for health insurance that covers contraception (even though, I repeat, it’s not your money even if it’s your name on the check, it’s your employees’ money), then you need to be arguing for universal health care that covers contraception, such that health insurance becomes optional.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    First, not everyone accepts your version of the harm principle. But even accepting it, as I’ve said in just about every post, there’s no proposal on the table to prohibit contraceptive use. The crux is in who will provide it. Should employers have to do so? If not, should they be required to provide a product that supplies it for employees? You say “You are not, however, permitted to prevent anyone else from using it.” I have a bit of experience with this, since my wife used to work for a Catholic employer that provided health insurance as part of her compensation. If and when we chose to use contraceptives, there was absolutely nothing stopping us. We just didn’t/don’t expect anyone else to be involved in helping us get them.

    On your view, though, the employee can insist on a specific coverage as part of his or her compensation and the employer has no choice but to accept. The parties cannot agree to a compensation package that deviates from this particular view of what should be covered in a health insurance policy.

  • smrnda

    Admit, the Mormon analogy was just what first popped up and wasn’t the bets, but  first, businesses *do* negotiate with insurance companies, however, as I know a number of people in the insurance industry, ‘negotiate’ does not mean ‘get everything you want.’ Believe me, any and all insurance companies would refuse the ‘no contraception’ plan since it’s VERY bad business for them.  I know, my partner is an actuary. No insurance company is going to offer a ‘no contraception’ plan any more than they would offer a ‘no mental health plan’ to Scientologists.

    But I”ll explain something about insurance – if the Catholic agency gets to choose a plan that does not cover contraception, there are making a deal with an insurance company that does. Insurance companies get $$ from many businesses and individuals, and this combined money is then used to dispense benefits, so, as long as *some* plan covered contraception, they’re still contributing to a system that covers it.  Unless Catholic agencies want to self-insure, there’s no way out of it. I don’t buy the  ‘we must pay for evil.’ Legally, I pay for ‘evil’ by putting money in a bank – I”m sure I’d have ethical problems with at least what some of that money is used for in terms of it becoming loans and capital for all sorts of things,  if I knew, but I accept that if I don’t want to live like the Amish, that’s going to happen.

    On bosses ‘paying’ for health insurance, given that I’m a firm believer that employers thrive by stealing wages from workers so I don’t buy it. In any relationship that’s unequal, the law should protect the weaker party, in this case, employees. I mean, do non-Catholic employees get to object to company funds being used for Catholic purposes? Their labor created the revenue, but their opinions don’t count. However, the people on top get to demand that the revenues mostly generate through employee work can just leave employees without what they want.

  • Lunch Meat

    And if the employer isn’t paying, if the employer is simply deducting the entire premium from the employee paycheck and forwarding it to the insurer, then it hardly seems unreasonable to just have the employee buy his own insurance.

    Employers get much better deals because of group purchasing power.

    why can’t the companies freely make contracts with insurers in which the two private parties specify what is covered and what is not? They aren’t demanding that the insurance companies not OFFER it, they are demanding that they not be forced to purchase the insurance coverage that so provides it.
    I absolutely agree with you that the employer has no business in what plan the employee has, which is exactly why the employer shouldn’t be involved in paying for it either. What on earth does my boss have to do with my healthcare arrangement? But if my boss is paying, I wouldn’t quite feel right telling my boss it’s none of his business.

    If what you’re saying was put into place, it would defeat not only the whole purpose of the act but the purpose of all labor rights laws. Look at the name of the act–no, not “Obamacare”, the “Affordable Care Act.” The purpose is to make basic health care affordable and available to everyone. (Unfortunately, as you say, it has to go through the employer, because that’s the way it’s set up right now. Single payer would never pass in this political climate.) For that to work, we have to agree on a level of basic care; otherwise an employer could offer insurance just covering band-aids and be able to claim it was insurance. The administration decided this includes preventive care, like vaccines, because it’s much, much cheaper–if society has to pay for the health care costs of those who can’t afford it–for society to cover preventive care instead of covering emergency care (think of the cost of tooth cleaning versus root canals, or breast exams that catch cancer early versus advanced cancer requiring a mastectomy). The administration also decided that since 98% of sexually active women have used birth control at some point, and because it allows women greater freedom and control over their futures when they can control their reproductive health, and because some women need birth control for other serious medical conditions, that this is included in basic preventive care and should be covered for free under insurance. And the act requires that employers provide that insurance because that’s the best way to make sure that everyone has access to it.

    Now, is it true that some religious people legitimately and sincerely are opposed to the use of birth control and think it’s a violation of moral and natural law? I’m sure it’s true. But if we allow some employers to refuse to cover insurance covering certain services for conscience’s sake, what’s the point of the act at all? The idea is to provide access to basic affordable health care for those who don’t have it and can’t currently afford it. If we say that they can just go buy stuff that’s not included, that defeats the entire purpose.

    More than that, it opens it up for an extreme amount of abuse. Arguments based on conscience don’t require any evidence. I could say I’m morally opposed to vaccines (and many people are) and therefore refuse to offer insurance covering vaccines. I could say I’m morally opposed to painkillers because suffering builds character and therefore refuse to offer insurance covering painkillers. And I don’t even have to believe this–I just have to not want to spend the money. Don’t you see how this allows the employer to circumvent the rules and restrict the employee’s access to health care, the very thing the act was trying to establish?

    Remember where I said this would defeat the entire purpose of all labor laws? That’s because this argument applies anywhere. I could say forcing me to hire women violates my religious freedom because I believe women should be at home in the kitchen. I could say forcing me to give my employees 15-minute breaks violates my religious freedom because I believe productivity is a virtue and laziness is a sin. And again, it doesn’t matter whether I actually believe that.

    You could say, of course, that employees are free to go find an employer who believes in equal rights for women, or who believes in giving employees breaks. Yes. But that was true before we enacted all the labor rights and equal opportunity laws we have now, and we enacted them for a reason, because the way it was wasn’t fair. And the ACA was enacted for a reason. If you let employers violate any portion they want because of conscience or religion, then the act is no good at all.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have employer-provided health insurance. It covers contraception. I do not have to make use of that coverage if I do not want or need to.

    Happens I do need to be on the Pill, though it’s none of your business why, nor my employer’s, nor indeed anyone but my gynecologist’s and my own. If none of my employer-provided health insurance options covered contraception, I would not be able to be on the Pill. That would be my employer preventing me from accessing something medically necessary, which is not permissible. And fyi, ‘I want to have vaginal sex without getting pregnant’ constitutes medical necessity for contraception, same as ‘I have had enough of taking sick leave every month when my too-painful period shows up’.

  • Lori

     

    The crux is in who will provide it. Should employers have to do so? If not, should they be required to provide a product that supplies it for employees?   

    As has already been pointed out, this framing is inaccurate at best and
    dishonest at worst. No one has proposed having employers provide birth
    control. (Not least because that would be a really gross case of
    over-share between employer and employee.) Employers are also not
    being required to provide a product that supplies it for employees.
    Employers which have health insurance as part of the total compensation
    that they pay employees for their labor are required to insure men and
    women equally. Access to birth control is part of comprehensive health
    care for women, so it needs to be covered by the insurance provided.

    The
    fact that an employer would rather that his female employees not use
    birth control is entirely irrelevant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    “If none of my employer-provided health insurance options covered contraception, I would not be able to be on the Pill.”

    That’s the part I don’t understand. Why couldn’t a woman get the pill without someone’s help? I’m genuinely asking , in light of my personal experience having no problems procuring such drugs. Are pharmacies checking for employer permission (snark)? Is it because there is a particularly expensive medicine and the only way for women to get it is to force third parties to deduct money from the woman’s paycheck and forward it to an insurer?The point is that involving a third party in facilitating health insurance products implicates that third party’s rights, too. If insurance companies refused to offer no-contraceptive plans, then Catholic companies would have no market. That still wouldn’t answer the question of the propriety of requiring an employer to procure an insurance product it considers accomplice to immorality.

    And several of the most recent comments have circled us back to the tightly knotted problem of freedom of conscience under comprehensive regulatory schemes. I suppose I could figure out how to bold text in the comments so that I can be as EXPRESSIVE as some of you, but I have several times now (and did so in my original post) also acknowledged that this is a legitimate problem to which there is not an easy answer. But just as “that’s my religion” is not an excuse to skip a law, neither is “suck it, Catholics, we got our equality going on here” a legitimate response to a conscientious moral objection within a religious community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SLWhitesell S. L. Whitesell

    I don’t know how you people (what do you mean YOU PEOPLE?) got me back in to talking about the ACA. I really wanted to focus on the related problems of citizen response to unjust laws (including the problem of how to discern what laws are unjust) and the even thornier problem of how the rest of us should react when someone has a moral objection to our laws.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    the interests of all citizens are equal [..] But that can’t translate in to an immunity from generally applicable laws that serve a legitimate public purpose. 

    (nods) Cool.

    The approach I’m familiar with starts with the distinction between laws that serve a legitimate public purpose and those that don’t. The former apply to everyone, regardless of their beliefs. The latter don’t apply to anyone, regardless of their belief.

    The problem, of course, is that we lie to each other and ourselves about what laws actually serve a legitimate public purpose, so our “public purposes” just happen to align with the beliefs of the powerful. Staying vigilant enough to avoid that (and to undo it when we realize we’ve done it, or that we’ve been doing it for generations) is an ongoing effort.

    Having some shared understanding of what a legitimate public purpose is can help.


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