Peroutka's MLK Day Message: Martin Luther King Didn't Actually Support Civil Rights

Talk show host Steve Deace chose to commemorate Martin Luther King Day on Monday by discussing King’s legacy with Michael Peroutka, head of the Institute on the Constitution and "proud member" of the neo-Confederate League of the South.

Peroutka explained to Deace that modern-day civil rights activists have it all wrong and that King never actually fought for civil rights. In fact, Peroutka said, “The term ‘civil rights’ is kind of an oxymoron” because rights come from God not from civil government. King, Peroutka insisted, believed that “rights come from God,” so the term “civil rights” doesn’t apply to his work.

“It’s ironic that many of those who are kind of the modern, welfare-state proponents, they quote or they harken back to Martin Luther King as if he was some proponent of civil rights, and he was not,” Peroutka said.

Peroutka’s King scholarship might be helped by actually reading some of King’s work. In the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, for instance, King refers to “constitutional and God given rights” and “moral law or the law of God,” but doesn’t seem to think this inconsistent with his several references to "civil rights."

Not actually knowing anything about King or the Civil Rights movement didn’t stop King and Deace from further claiming  that King -- who supported a guaranteed middle-class income for all Americans -- would have opposed government assistance for low-income people (what Peroutka calls “a handout” and Deace calls “forms of larceny imposed by government”) or marriage equality (or what Deace calls “the right to marry my car battery”).

Peroutka concluded that King’s message has been “perverted by his quote-unquote ‘followers’ into something that he never said and I don’t think he ever meant.” Deace, for his part, argued that modern civil rights activists – who he claims ignore the Bible – are actually making “the sort of argument segregationists and Jim Crowists made that King was fighting against in his day.”

Peroutka: The idea of a right isn’t consistent with the idea that it would come from man or that it would originate in a civil government. So the very term “civil rights” is kind of an oxymoron. There’s no “right” in the sense of a permanent, fixed, thing that you have, that can be defended, if in fact it comes from the civil government. And it’s ironic that many of those who are kind of the modern, welfare-state proponents, they quote or they harken back to Martin Luther King as if he was some proponent of civil rights, and he was not. He was not.

As we were pointing out, his speeches, the documents don’t reflect that. They reflect his understanding that rights come from God. You know, in that speech, again, that we talked about, the “I Have a Dream” speech, he said, I think, in that speech, that “we’ve come to Washington to cash a check.” He didn’t say, “We came for a handout!” He said, there’s something that’s legitimately owed to us, which is our rights, because we’re equal in the eyes of our creator, we’re equal before the law. He wasn’t saying, “We want you to give us a handout.” He said, you actually owe us the same defense of our rights that you’ve given others. That’s all we’re asking for.

That’s been perverted by his quote-unquote “followers” into something that he never said and I don’t think he ever meant.

Deace: In fact, those same people are the ones that are arguing that they have rights to practice forms of larceny imposed by government or forms of things that were called “depravity” or “immorality” in past eras. And they are using the argument that those are civil rights because a judge told me that I can steal from you. Or a legislator told me that I can take off of your paycheck before you even get to cash it, and that means I have that “right.” Or because a judge told me that I have the right to marry my car battery, that means that I actually do have that “right.”

And what’s funny is that argument, that’s the sort of argument segregationists and Jim Crowists made that King was fighting against in his day. “Well, actually it doesn’t really matter what you think the Bible says, what matters is whether the state of so-and-so thinks you’re a free citizen or not. We decide whether you are a child made in the image of God or not, not God.”