Don't pretend to praise Martin Luther King Jr. if you don't share his values | Editorial

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. (AP Photo/File)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. (AP Photo/File)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. must be rolling over in his grave — again. As the nation celebrates the federal holiday dedicated to the late civil rights icon, some sully his legacy by weaponizing his words and turning them against the causes he so deeply believed in, fought and died for.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is the latest example. King apparently wasn't far from his mind when DeSantis introduced The Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, a proposal that is the antithesis of King's philosophy and life.

“You think about what MLK stood for,” the governor had the chutzpah to say in December, when he introduced the proposal as a legislative priority. "He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don’t talk about that.”

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Correction, governor. People are talking about that — unfortunately, they are the wrong people. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy last summer used the famous words from King's "I Have a Dream" speech, after complaining that proponents of Critical Race Theory were against everything King stood for.

Echoing what is by now a Republican talking point, Josh Mandel, a former Ohio state treasurer and perennial Senate candidate, last summer accused liberals of "... stomping on the grave of Martin Luther King." He then proceeded to quote the best known words of King's dream.

In Florida, King's words will undoubtedly ease the consciences of Republican lawmakers as they push bills that, in the words of the DeSantis administration, will be the strongest legislation in the nation to take on corporate "wokeness" and Critical Race Theory, an academic concept that contends racism is not merely the product of individual bias but is embedded in legal systems and policies.

Republicans use Critical Race Theory as dog whistle

The theory is not taught in America's public schools but Republicans bring it up nonetheless, as a dog whistle to rile their political base, rail against historic facts and point to current trends that seem to them to demean white men.

There are four bills — HB 7 and HB 57 in the Florida House, and SB 148 and SB 242 in the Senate — that Republican lawmakers will shape into the legislation DeSantis wants. None of them to date allows aggrieved employees, parents and students the right to sue offending agencies, schools and employers. But, it's still early in the legislative session.

All four bills contain prohibitions against race or sex "scapegoating" and "stereotyping." These offenses apparently can occur when anyone, be they a college professor, county administrator, diversity consultant or mayor, while discussing race or sex, concludes that a person's race or gender is inherently racist, sexist or, oppressive or when our country is seen as "fundamentally racist or sexist."

The most disturbing of these "divisive concepts" regards a person's feelings about the subject. In effect it would become illegal to cause anyone to feel bad about any controversy stemming from race or sex. While the bill has language that protects free speech and general discussions involving race, no one can be "indoctrinated" or, worse, offended.

So, what happens to that devout schoolteacher who brings up what King said in the speech before the part about his grandchildren? "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," he said. "This note was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds."

King was many things: a civil rights leader, man of God, a revolutionary. He opposed the Vietnam War, believed in the power of unions and advocated equal pay, unemployment insurance and a fair minimum wage — a legacy conservatives conveniently forget.

If only they would keep King's name out of their mouths until they respected his ideals.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Politicians use MLK to promote divisive policies

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