On this date, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia. The civil rights leader, Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference believed in a strict separation of church and state. Although his many speeches are peppered with references to Jesus and God and often depend for the force of their authority upon “the natural law of God,” the Rev. King knew that the religious status quo tended to support segregation. In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” dated 16 April 1963, King revealed his pique at continued criticism of the civil rights movement by clergy, pointing out that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the country:
In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. . . . [H]ere we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. . . . The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. . . Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963